Golfing star Rory McIlroy lines up American girlfriend Erica as his future bride
A year after the Sunday Independent exclusively revealed the new couple, friends say an older and wiser Rory could have finally found his perfect match
When Rory McIlroy started dating Erica Stoll many dismissed it as an on-the-rebound fling that would go nowhere.
The world-class golfer had just come out of a relationship with ex-fiancé Caroline Wozniacki that had ended with a 10-minute phone call from Rory, after claims that the tennis player had become a 'bride-zilla' in the run up to their big day. The golfer was in no mood to settle down and was linked to a string of beauties including Irish model Nadia Forde.
But love doesn't make plans, it just happens.
And it seems the real deal has finally swept over the world-famous golfer.
This weekend friends have told the Sunday Independent that Rory (26) has finally found 'the one'.
And there could be an engagement ring on the horizon. A year after this newspaper exclusively revealed that Erica (29) was the new woman in his life, friends say that Rory feels very confident that the blonde beauty is the woman for him. "Don't be surprised if you hear he pops the question, it's going very, very well," a friend said.
A separate source also revealed how Erica had met Rory's friends in Florida and Ireland recently and said that his circle have warmed to her and delight in the effect she has on the golfer.
"She's a really, really nice girl," said the well-placed source. "Very nice and down to earth and the one thing everyone is saying is how good she is for Rory. I wouldn't be surprised if they do tie the knot. You know the saying 'when you know - you know' [you've met the right person] and I think Rory is there now.
"She's met his family too. His parents are very fond of her. And she gels well with everyone. You'd be hard pressed to find a better match."
They say a picture paints a thousand words and Rory's triumph last weekend in the DP World Tour Championship to claim a third Race to Dubai title in the last four years gave the golfer the chance to show the world exactly how he feels.
Placing Erica by his side at the awards ceremony, putting her front and centre of his life, was significant for the golfer.
He was badly burned in his last relationship with so much of it flaunted like a running soap opera in the press. He learned the hard way not to allow his personal life to become fodder for gossip columns and vowed never to repeat the same mistakes.
Unlike in his relationship to Wozniacki, where pictures of the couple's daily life - from their spars on the tennis court to their private life at home - were feverishly tweeted and Instagrammed for their millions of social media followers, Rory has been staunchly protective of his relationship with Erica.
For her part, she has shied away from the media attention, putting her hood fully up and shades on when faced with the glare of photographers.
The PGA employee has also never publicly posted or spoken about the relationship, choosing to guard it with a dignified silence. Even close friends of the American are kept out of the loop when it comes to her love life, which she believes should be kept strictly between the couple.
So when their first official photo together was beamed around the world at the Dubai title, it was a significant gesture on behalf of Rory.
It was his moment to tell his fans that he is happy, not just in his sporting and professional life but in the one that matters most - his personal life.
"You just needed to see the way he looked at her," said a friend, "he's head over heels for her." The source continued: "The lack of drama too, how supportive she is of his game and how genuinely obsessed with golf she was long before she met Rory means they have loads in common and Rory has a great balance in his life now. Where his game suffered when he was dating Caroline, Erica is the antidote to all that."
Erica famously came to the golfer's rescue at the Ryder Cup October 2012 when she noticed he was not on site for the final day of the competition Rory. from Holywood, Co Down, narrowly avoided missing disqualification after mixing up his tee time and was given a police escort to the course after quick-thinking Erica came to his rescue.
She has previously taken to Twitter to lament the fact that she was single. She tweeted: "Perhaps I am single because instead of going out on a Friday night, I'd rather sit on the couch with a bottle of wine and watch the US Open."