Saturday 21 October 2017

Wedding split just latest twist in the soap opera world of McIlroy

Major triumphs, on-course meltdowns, millions in prize money, public heartache – star's dramas highlight a young man not afraid to take control of his destiny

Rory McIlroy with Caroline Wozniacki
Rory McIlroy with Caroline Wozniacki

Karl MacGinty

THE news burst like an artillery shell over Wentworth.

Rory McIlroy's friends and colleagues on Tour were stunned and saddened to learn of his break-up with fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.

Yet millions of casual sports fans and celebrity junkies may be tempted to regard this story as just another episode in McIlroy's volatile soap opera life.

At the tender age of 25, McIlroy has endured more drama than the entire cast of 'Eastenders'.

On the course or off it, the Holywood native never, ever seems to follow the path of least resistance.

Only McIlroy, one suspects, could have rebounded from that harrowing Sunday afternoon implosion at Augusta to complete a sensational, record-shattering first Major championship victory 70 days later at the 2011 US Open at Congressional.

He twice reached the top of the world in 2012, following up a mini-slump that summer by romping to another mould-breaking eight-stroke Major success at the PGA Championship.

After signing a life-changing $20m-per-annum deal with Nike that December, McIlroy then endured eight fruitless and frustrating months as he struggled to come to grips with his new clubs.

There were murmurings of upheaval in the background as McIlroy walked off the golf course less than halfway through his second round on 'Black Friday' at the Honda Classic in March 2013.

Then he broke up with his Dublin management company Horizon last year, barely a month after signing an extension to his contract.

Ironically, exactly 12 months ago McIlroy's pre-tournament press conference at the BMW PGA Championship was dominated by that break-up, which continues to cast a pall as both sides remain locked on course for collision in Dublin's Commercial Court.

Even echoes of his previous six-year relationship with childhood sweetheart Holly Sweeney would resonate in the media long after they parted in July 2011 and McIlroy and Danish tennis star Wozniacki became the biggest celebrity couple in sport.

One almost expected somebody to cue the theme music and run the credits after every twist in the astonishing tale of his life.

And as bookmakers last night frivolously laid odds on the Ulsterman's next girlfriend, some might almost be tempted perhaps to forget the real-life pain and anguish which underpins this and many other headline-grabbing adventures or misadventures in which he has become embroiled.

Anyone who witnessed at first hand McIlroy's emotional press conference at Wentworth yesterday knows differently.

Tears appeared to well in his eyes as he was reminded of the joyful announcement of his engagement to Wozniacki amid the fireworks of New Year's Eve in Sydney just over five months ago.

"Look, I'm no different than anyone else," said McIlroy when asked how tough the decision had been. "Everyone has been through break-ups and it's obviously very, very difficult."

Breaking up is always hard to do but McIlroy deserves credit for the courageous way in which he faced the world's media yesterday, while his decision to honour his commitment to play in this week's tournament lends him an opportunity to find refuge in his golf.

That McIlroy and Wozniacki cared deeply for each other was obvious to anyone who saw them together, especially since their engagement.

For sure, tales circulated among those close to the couple of the occasional flaming row and I understand they actually did part, albeit briefly, last October. Yet the course of true love rarely runs smooth, especially between young, hot-blooded 20-somethings.

Most surprising and perplexing was the sudden timing of yesterday morning's announcement of the split, made in a statement issued by McIlroy's Dublin communications consultant Terry Prone.

It came right out of the blue, literally days after they'd written and sent out the invitations for next November's wedding.

There had been no indication of discord in recent days. Quite the opposite, in fact, as both tweeted about idyllic evenings spent together – Wozniacki of a night at the West End musical 'The Bodyguard' in London last Tuesday week and the Ulsterman of a dinner date with his fiancee in Monte Carlo last Sunday.

"There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people," McIlroy admitted in the statement. Though he said the decision had been "mutual and amicable," he added: "The problem is mine."

CATALYST

He explained that issuing those wedding invitations at the weekend acted as a catalyst and "made me realise that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we've had".

McIlroy is renowned for his honesty, while the courage it required to make this decision was saluted by Padraig Harrington.

Saying "there would be nothing worse" than the doubts which much have assailed McIlroy in recent days, Harrington went on: "He obviously cares a lot for Caroline but realises that it's not the right thing for him to do.

"That's a horrible place to be. Nobody wants to hurt anybody else but he clearly doesn't want to make something that would only worse down the road. Rory has taken a very brave course of action, assuming it's the right action.

"It's obviously a shock to the system but it's better not to go through with it if he was having any doubts," added the Dubliner. "But who am I (to comment). I'm not a marriage counsellor.

"I'm no expert on this sort of stuff but it's part of human life. He's a young lad and he's living in the public eye and it's an awful lot to handle."

US Open champion Justin Rose was shocked when he heard the news, describing it as "unbelievable. There are hearts involved so it's difficult to make a comment, especially as I don't know the circumstances ... but it's better now than in two years' time.

"I regard Rory as a close friend and he vaguely asked me what I'd be doing around the time I thought the wedding might be, so that's a shame," added the Englishman. "I'm disappointed to hear this, it's very sad.

"It's difficult for him. He's a megastar. His personal life unfortunately is not so personal anymore because of the situation he is in. So it's going to be a very difficult period of time for him.

"He seemed to be getting some confidence going on the golf course. I hope he can separate the two and keep playing well. There's a big summer of golf ahead. Sad news for him, for sure."

Like many others, Rose had been struck most of all by McIlroy's resilience in recent tournaments – especially when they played together for two rounds at the Players Championship.

That was the most recent of three events, including the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in which the youngster repeatedly fought hard to overcome adversity that might have crushed him in the past. The top-10 finishes he achieved at all three events underscored that, in boxing terms, McIlroy not only throws big punches but has learned to take them too.

More than ever before, he appeared less vulnerable to fate and capable of exercising control over his own destiny on the course.

Much of the controversy in McIlroy's life has been stirred by his absolute refusal to duck or fudge hard decisions, as both of his former agents and, indeed, Ms Sweeney, doubtless will attest.

He's gone places where others feared to tread, for example in his admission to an English tabloid newspaper several years ago that he "feels more British than Irish", later expressing genuine regret for the hurt that caused in many quarters.

So any surprise caused by the suddenness of yesterday's announcement is tempered by the thought that it's typical of McIlroy, especially now as he takes firm control of his destiny.

After that doleful media briefing, Manchester United fan McIlroy certainly appeared to enjoy the company of legendary Red Devils Peter Schmeichel, Teddy Sheringham and Phil Neville in yesterday afternoon's pre-tournament Pro-Am.

The media hullaballoo on the first tee was more Hollywood premiere than European Tour Pro-Am.

Even if McIlroy made bogey out of a fairway bunker on the first hole of his life post-Wozzilroy, the professional fairways, even on the perplexing West Course at Wentworth, will forever be where he finds true refuge.

One suspects Rory McIlroy, the golfer, will heal quickly and emerge even stronger from this latest drama in his extraordinary life.

Irish Independent

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