'It's good I'm down in World No 3 - it fires me' - Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy admits to James Corrigan that it is time to start thinking about making a few life changes
Rory McIlroy has finally conceded that he must hang up his football boots and has also admitted that he considered quitting the European Tour. If the former revelation will bring relief across the game then the latter will cause alarm at Wentworth, the headquarters of the European Tour.
Although there are a few months left of the campaign, McIlroy has already begun to reflect on what he calls "the year that got away". One that was going so promisingly until that friendly kickabout a fortnight before the Open at St Andrews. Then he went one way, his ankle went the other, and 2015 was ruptured as far as the sport's young superstar was concerned.
McIlroy missed defending his Claret Jug, could not overcome a near two-month absence at the US PGA Championship and relinquished the world No 1 tag first to Jordan Spieth and then to Jason Day. Yet through it all he insisted that he would not change, would continue to live his life exactly how he wanted. Until now.
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"Looking back, I can see the opportunities I missed because of the injury," McIlroy said. "Listen, I'm in a fortunate position to have the chance to win trophies many others can only dream about and yes, I will make sure I'll be a little more careful in the future.
"I will not be playing football during the golf season again. It's a shame, as I enjoy playing with my friends, but I'll limit it to the off season. We always have our game at Christmas and there's no way I'm missing that. That's our FA Cup final. And in that sense it is important to carry on living my life."
That is easier said than done when McIlroy's schedule is taken into account.
Just before this interview, McIlroy had been presented with a graphic breaking down his existence in numbers. His sponsor Santander has launched "Spendlytics", an app which informs customers about their spending habits, but although McIlroy does not need to keep such a close monitor on his finances, the 12-month analysis the team compiled for the 26-year-old has been an eye-opener. "Look at it, some of it is amazing," he said.
"The travel - wow. I'm in an airplane for more than a fortnight a year; have been in 118 different airports in 12 months. I've spent 287 nights in a hotel.
"What does that leave? Less than 80 nights in my own bed, whether it's the one in Northern Ireland or Florida. I guess at the minute, I don't really have a home. I'm not moaning, because I know how lucky I am. But when you're shown it in black and white, you take a step back and think 'blimey'.
"I can definitely see a time in the not-so-distant future when those numbers will reduce. They'll have to, if I'm going to have a family and a home life and all that. But that's what being a global player and playing two tours entails."
It is too much for some. Paul Casey, for one. The Englishman is still deciding whether to rejoin the European Tour or to concentrate solely on the PGA Tour. The quandary centres around Casey turning his back on the Ryder Cup.
"Paul has a young family, his life is in America, in Arizona, and I would have no problem at all with whatever decision he makes," McIlroy said. "It would obviously make our Ryder Cup team weaker, especially when he's in this sort of form. But if Paul says the Ryder Cup doesn't mean as much to him as his family, then more clout to him. It's a dilemma a lot of the guys are dealing with. A few years down the line, if I had a family in the States, I'd have to strongly consider it, too. To be honest, there have been times when I have contemplated not playing on the European Tour, already."
Casey has forecast "all hell breaking loose" if McIlroy ever did hand in his card. There simply could not be a Ryder Cup without him and in that regard he is one the main powerbrokers in this burgeoning struggle.
"I do know that if I said, 'Look I don't want to play the European Tour, or at least not be a member any more', then the Ryder Cup rules would change," McIlroy said. "I understand that and it might help out a few of the other guys over there. But I don't want to put the European Tour in that sort of position, because I owe a great deal to them.
"They gave me playing opportunities at the start of my career and I wouldn't be where I am without them."
There will very likely have to be a compromise, however, and Keith Pelley, the new European Tour chief executive, has already shown his willingness to "bend the rules" for McIlroy by allowing him to play only 12 events because of his injury this season instead of the minimum 13.
However, McIlroy is uneasy about the way in which the Ryder Cup is used as the Tour's great bargaining tool.
"In truth, the Ryder Cup should be the 12 best players in Europe against the 12 best in the US," McIlroy said. "In an ideal world they would just go down the rankings and do it like that. It shouldn't be the European Tour versus the PGA Tour; it should be the best from our continent against the best from their country. Now I understand why the European Tour guard it like they do and can't really blame them for doing so. It's a big money-making machine and the Tour counts on it for survival."
It is an intriguing point which will almost certainly come under greater scrutiny when McIlroy returns to play in the final stages of the Race to Dubai this month. He holds a £290,000 lead at the top of the order of merit over England's Danny Willett and is determined to finish the season on a high.
"I won the World Matchplay and two other titles before the injury so it hasn't been so bad," McIlroy said. "But I genuinely felt I was on the cusp of something special. It shows how quickly things change. But the thing is, if Jordan and Jason hadn't played so well I'd still be here as world No 1 and, in a way, it's good I'm down in No 3 - it fires me up.
"Outsiders may say their emergence hasn't been great for me, but in the long term it will be. And it's brilliant for golf. Because the game has to move on and it's not just us three but Rickie (Fowler) and many other youngsters.
"I'm not saying the old guys are finished, but I do think that this was the year when they were suddenly not at the forefront of people's minds any more. And it's exciting to be a part of a new crowd who are. I've just got to ensure I stay there, now."
So no football and plenty of airports then. That is the way of McIlroy's life.
Training: 1036 Kilometres ran
3300 Lengths swam
6800 Press ups
6720 Minutes spent stretching
6320 Pull ups/Chin ups
640 Kilometres cycled
Golf: 16500 Balls hit
1 Club thrown in water
1500 Kilometres walked on course
301 Fastest ball driven (kph)
210 Media interviews
6350 Autographs signed
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