Rory and G-Mac the real match made in heaven
RORY McILROY and Danish girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki are the most celebrated couple in sport, but it's the 22-year-old's on-course partnership with Graeme McDowell that will be under the spotlight at golf's World Cup in three weeks' time.
New world No 2 McIlroy, who became the highest-ranked Irish golfer in history on the back of his fourth place behind Martin Kaymer at the HSBC Champions, has gone on a fortnight's holiday in the Maldives with Wozniacki, the women's tennis No 1.
McDowell snapped the happy couple with his mobile phone on Sunday evening in Shanghai and posted the picture on his Twitter page with the caption: "No 1 and 2 in the World. Wozzilroy. Talented Couple."
No doubting that ... yet a fascinating and -- for the Irish golf fan -- equally exciting new dynamic was visible in the relationship between McIlroy and McDowell as they played Sunday's final round at Sheshan International with, ironically enough, England's Lee Westwood.
There'd been a discernible edge between Westwood and McIlroy since the Englishman claimed he'd 'bullied' his young ISM stablemate as he eclipsed him at the 2009 Dubai World Championship.
In contrast, the joining together of good friends and fellow Ulstermen McIlroy and McDowell has all the appearances of a golfing marriage made in heaven.
Their rivalry was seen at its best at Sheshan's demanding 15th hole on Sunday when McDowell once again underscored his recovery from the previous weekend's horrors at Valderrama by hitting a 181-yard six-iron to six feet.
Smiling, McDowell cast a glance across the fairway at McIlroy. No words were necessary. The look from the Portrush native said it all: 'Get inside that if you can!'
McIlroy brilliantly rose to the challenge, hitting his approach to inches.
Both of them laughed and walked on, whetting Irish appetites for the World Cup at China's Mission Hills Resort as they polished off two splendid birdies.
Second only to Italy's Magnificent Molinaris last year, the two in-form Ulstermen themselves look as formidable as 'Brothers in Arms' as Dubliners Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley did when lifting the Canada Cup for Ireland at Kiawah Island in 1997.
McDowell's impressive third place at the HSBC was founded on two error-free closing rounds of 67 that were a world apart from the abject, birdie-less 81 and 82 which had turned the previous Saturday and Sunday on the Costa del Sol into "probably the worst weekend of my career".
"That was much more the kind of golf I expect from myself. I'm very happy with the way I played and especially the way I putted. I putted horrifically last week," said McDowell. "I mean, if Martin Kaymer had not skipped the last couple of holes, we might all have had a chance," he joked.
Frankly, from the moment Kaymer pitched in from a greenside bunker at seven, sparking a run of nine birdies in his final 12 holes, it was clear the German was back to his majestic best after a year almost as frustrating as McDowell's.
Confidence is critical to McDowell. Like any player with a slightly unorthdox, homegrown technique, much depends on 'feel' and, having soothed his fevered brow on the range with Pete Cowen in Shanghai, he was virtually a new man on the golf course.
Hopefully, he'll keep up the good work at this week's $6m Barclay's Singapore Open, where a host of other Irish players have missions to perform.
Harrington needs €150,000-plus in Singapore and when he defends in Johor next week to make it into the top 60 in the Race to Dubai, for example, while Damien McGrane (currently 108th) and Gareth Maybin (115th) continue the fight for their Tour cards.
Delighted that the wrist injury he sustained at Valderrama does not require season-ending surgery, McGinley returns to action at Sentosa, where Walker Cup hero Paul Cutler hopes to make the cut in his fourth Tour event as a professional.
STEVE WILLIAMS is not a racist. In fact, the New Zealander rarely exercises any discrimination in displaying his boorishness, arrogance and ignorance.
Yet the obscene remark he made about Tiger Woods at the Professional Caddies Association's annual awards in Shanghai -- he said he wanted to shove the trophy up "that black a***hole" -- came straight from the lexicon of Alf Garnett.
And for such a blatantly racist act, Williams should be shunned.
Golf has a shameful past and, in some respects, a dubious present when it comes to racial and sexual discrimination. The failure to banish or 'rest' Williams at least until the end of the year brings the sport into abominable disrepute.
The International Federation of PGA Tours described the remarks as "entirely unacceptable". They said they "consider the matter closed".
Except it isn't. With Williams and his present boss Adam Scott scheduled to walk the same fairways as Woods at this week's Australian Open and next week's Presidents Cup, this issue's going to keep burning for the next fortnight at least.
It was up to Scott to take appropriate action against his employee -- instead, the Australian accepted the grudging apology issued by Williams.
In his naivety, Scott even asked reporters "what do you want, I got him to apologise", immediately casting doubt on the sincerity of the caddie's climb-down.
Many of us who report on the professional tours have first-hand knowledge of outrageous behaviour by Williams.
I witnessed a young, black college student reduced to tears after a tirade of abuse by the New Zealander during the 2003 US Open at Olympia Fields.
Her part-time job that week was to stand at the door of the media centre and permit entry only to those with the correct credentials. When she stopped Williams and pointed out he did not have the necessary 'M' stamped on his badge, it led to a furious dressing-down which, the girl alleged, began with: "Do you not know who I am?"
Though her colour or race had no bearing on his behaviour that day, I find it difficult to imagine Williams being as aggressive had a 6ft 2in male barred his path.
Following his outrageous remark, the very presence of Williams at any tournament offends the spirit and integrity of the game of golf.