McDowell:I did not lure Rory to Horizon
At first glance, it looks like golf's celebrity grudge match. Rory McIlroy's Shanghai Masters showdown with Lee Westwood early today has given this supposedly genteel sport the Tyson-Holyfield touch.
Graeme McDowell, tongue firmly in cheek, last night spoke of the rich "irony" of these two former stablemates being drawn together just days after McIlroy made what Westwood described as a "bizarre" decision to leave English giants ISM for Dublin company Horizon Sports.
Of course, pairings like these are made not in heaven, but by mischievous tournament promoters. No question, the organisers of this weekend's brand new, completely unofficial and utterly contrived $5m (€3.6m) event in China fell on their feet.
Half a world away in Valderrama, McDowell's media conference on the eve of his defence of the wholly legitimate Andalucia Masters focused almost exclusively on McIlroy's latest career move.
"It's great, they've played a lot of golf together and they both are very competitive. They'll want to go out there a beat each other up!" quipped McDowell of the confrontation in China. "Obviously, from the golf point of view," he added.
As for those bitter tweets which have flown between McIlroy and Westwood in recent years, McDowell said dismissively: "I always figured they were just jokes with jabs."
McDowell has found himself in the middle of golf's latest divorce. McIlroy is his closest friend in golf, while Westwood was a team-mate at ISM until four years ago, when the Portrush man left for Horizon.
Yet last night McDowell insisted he played no part in McIlroy's decision to walk out on long-time agent Chubby Chandler and move in with Horizon.
"I'd strongly resent any suggestion that I in some way enticed Rory to join Horizon," he said, explaining he values their friendship too much to risk it by trying to influence a career decision so great. McDowell believes it was one only McIlroy himself should make.
"People who accuse me of enticing Rory clearly don't know me very well and don't know him very well either. He's a very intelligent young man. He's very headstrong and impulsive. He makes his own decisions and really never was going to listen to me.
"I would never give Rory the big sell on Horizon. All I told him was that I was there for him as a neutral sounding-board. I purposely took a back seat and I know in my heart that I've done that well and honestly.
"So I can look Chubby in the eye and know I've done him no wrong. It's business and Rory has made a business decision. There's nothing personal about it."
McDowell admits he was "semi-surprised" by McIlroy's decision to link up with Horizon, saying: "Rory has a huge global profile. He's so good, he's of Tiger-esque potential in terms of what he can do for world golf.
"I thought he'd go with one of the huge vehicles, like IMG or CAA, to manage his business. But big doesn't necessarily mean better."
He believed McIlroy had been "reasonably settled" at ISM, explaining: "Rory spoke to me a couple of months ago and told me he was a little unhappy with a few things and that he and Chubby had a conversation about his unhappiness and were trying to change things.
"I thought no more of it until I heard changes were maybe in the offing -- nothing goes amiss on Tour without the rumour mill getting hold of it. I spoke to Rory on the phone and we talked about what he wanted to do.
"He'd have seen what Horizon had done for me and I told him that they've handled me very well and have grown as a company, learning how to manage a top player. I was delighted when he made the decision. We are all very, very excited to have him on board."
McDowell shot down Westwood's dismissal of McIlroy's decision as "bizarre," saying: "That's Lee's opinion. Yet he knows nothing about what the Horizon team does behind the scenes or the world-class international contacts they have forged in the financial, legal and business arenas.
"Perhaps Rory just wants a different view on the way his business life should be run," he added. "Is it a bizarre decision? No! It's Rory's decision and he's a very smart kid."
Westwood and McIlroy set off in pursuit of the biggest winner's cheque in golf today, a monster $2m (€1.4m) on top of the appearance fees all of the 30-man field, including Padraig Harrington, have been paid.
By rights, Harrington should be chasing precious world ranking and Race to Dubai points in Valderrama, where the greatest threat to McDowell's defence comes from Sergio Garcia.
As he showed during Sunday's record-breaking victory on home turf at the Castello Masters, a new air of calm and confidence surrounds Garcia, which is due in no small part to his new girlfriend.
"She's a wonderful girl, we're happy together," he said.
Is she Spanish, we asked? "No, she's Welsh."
Really? Did you meet at Celtic Manor? Is that why you went to the Ryder Cup? "No," Sergio laughed gently, "but good try!"
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