GRAEME McDOWELL eliminated any remaining vestiges of doubt about Rory McIlroy's imminent departure from Horizon Sports as he offered a cogent professional opinion on his good friend's decision to set up a management company of his own.
After breezing through to this weekend's knockout stages of the Volvo World Match Play Championship with Shane Lowry (another Horizon stablemate), McDowell took time out to talk about McIlroy's stunning exit after 18 "phenomenally successful months" with the Dublin firm.
Having played a significant part in McIlroy's decision to join Horizon, McDowell admitted "disappointment" at seeing him leave.
However, it came "as no massive surprise" to the Portrush man that a golfer of McIlroy's stature wanted to set up his own back-room team, adding that frustration with his form so far this season probably exacerbated the situation.
"Rory's made a decision about his management structure, for whatever reasons I don't know. I really haven't seen much of him for the last few months, our schedules have been quite different," McDowell shrugged.
"But management is a funny thing. I always think when things are maybe not going 100pc on the golf course, it's natural to question everything you're doing. I've been through periods in my career where I've questioned absolutely everyone around me – caddies, coaches, girlfriends, mums and dads and management structures. I made the jump from Chubby (Chandler, at ISM) to Horizon.
"It certainly was a turning point in my pro career. They've done a phenomenal job for me for the past five or six years. I've never looked back since then and I'm very happy with what I'm doing.
"But when the stakes get high and the pressure is on, the old caddies and coaches normally are the first to go. I guess management companies probably are not too far down that pecking order either. Let's be honest, it's a fickle sport."
Though several years remain on McIlroy's contract at Horizon, McDowell said: "From what I hear from the boys, it's a fairly amicable break-up. He wants to go and do his own thing and surround himself with family, that's fair enough."
McDowell believes Horizon can hold their head high.
"You've just got to look at the job they've done for Rory as he won his second Major title and got to world No 1. You can't knock his results over the past 18 months nor the job they did for 'Brand Rory'; the partnerships he got off the golf course; the money he's making off the golf course; he signed the biggest deal ever in the sport (with Nike) at the end of last year.
"Business-wise, the guy's in the best shape he's ever been in his life. For whatever reason, his golf struggled early in the season, but I'm pretty sure the management company weren't giving him lessons, caddying for him or telling him how to play. That's kind of his own deal.
"Sometimes when we're not on our game, I'm not going to say we make wrong decisions, but we have a tendency to question everything in our lives.
"It's a high-stakes, high-pressure scenario and something has got to give now and again."
News of McIlroy's plans to set up his personal management company comprising some friends, family and close confidants, broke in these pages yesterday.
The player's father Gerry is expected to play a prominent role in the new operation and McDowell commented: "Gerry and Rosie are great and I know Caroline (Wozniacki) and Rory potentially want to do a foundation together.
"Life changes and Rory's life is not in Ireland anymore. That was kind of the good thing about Horizon for him at one point, I suppose, but who knows?
"The No 1 players in the world typically go out on their own and do their own thing. Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, Tiger to a certain extent. Life and business goes on."
McDowell showed true victory credentials at Thracian Cliffs by beating Scot Stephen Gallacher 4&2 to clinch a last-16 showdown with Bo Van Pelt.
The prospect of an all-Ireland final tomorrow afternoon on Bulgaria's Black Sea shore is still very much alive after Lowry rebounded from his morning defeat against George Coetzee to crush Ryder Cup star Peter Hanson 5&4 and then brilliantly clinch a knockout encounter with South African Thomas Aiken in a nail-biting play-off.
The Clara man hit the shot of his season, a 198-yard five-iron to eight feet for a birdie two on the second tie hole, which Hanson parred and Coetzee, idle in the afternoon, bogeyed.
* Padraig Harrington made the even par cut at the Byron Nelson Championship after a second round of 70. Harrington's erratic round included a triple bogey as well as six birdies to trail leader Keegan Bradley by 11 shots. A 77 meant 14-year-old Guan Tianlang missed the cut.
World Match Play Championship,
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