Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ryder Cup dilemma for captain McGinley as controversy engulfs his 'dream team' pair

Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland stand together on the 15th hole during the first round of the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club on October 24, 2013 in Shanghai, China.
Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland stand together on the 15th hole during the first round of the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club on October 24, 2013 in Shanghai, China.
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

If you are Paul McGinley today, you are thinking how circumstance has just placed a timebomb in your locker.

Europe's Ryder Cup captain is two months away from settling on his team to face America at Gleneagles in September where, it seems safe to assume, he would quite like the weaponry of both Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell at his disposal.

McIlroy is looking good to be one of the nine automatic selections and, as the man whose defeat of Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor secured the cup for Europe four years ago, McDowell would be considered short odds to join him as one of McGinley's three "picks" to complete a 12-man team.

Player chemistry is such a fundamental of Ryder Cup play that a captain, often, disregards individual rankings when deciding on his wild cards. McDowell and McIlroy, having successfully partnered one another in the World Cup, Seve Trophy and Ryder Cup match-play, would – in the strictest golf terms – carry logical appeal.

They won two foursomes points together in the 2010 match and another one-and-a-half in fourball and foursomes two years later. Both are, of course, US Open winners and, accordingly, players who would command immense respect from Tom Watson's American team.

Until recently, they seemed one of those natural match-play unions ala Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal and the late Seve Ballesteros.

But now?

McIlroy's bitter legal action against Horizon Sports Management will compel him to spend two weeks in a court-room early next year during which a fundamental of the case being taken against them is an allegation that they reneged on a commitment to provide him with comparable commercial rates to McDowell.

And tossing a little petrol on that fire is what they deem the "extraordinary" matter of discovering that McDowell happened to be a shareholder of Horizon.

McIlroy's legal team was at pains this week to stress that their client had "no issue" with McDowell and, while this may be so, it is difficult to see their relationship as not now contaminated in a pretty fundamental way by the business of the Commercial Court.

Eyebrows were raised last year when McIlroy was unable to attend McDowell's wedding and the age difference of 10 years means that, other than on a golf course, they are not often seen in one another's company.

Yet they remain the two highest positioned Irish golfers in the world rankings and – after McIlroy's decision last week to commit to Ireland for the 2016 Olympics – they would be considered possible team-mates for those Games in Rio.

The court case, fixed for a full hearing commencement on January 27, is sure to draw the attention of the world given the extraordinary scale of McIlroy's celebrity.

He alleges that a contract, signed when he was just 22, charged him "unreasonable rates" of commission. Horizon deny this and have counter-claimed, insisting that McIlroy has already earned £70m (€87m) from contracts negotiated by them and is due to earn as much again.

It is a reminder of how, at his level, a player ceases to be simply a golfer. He becomes a global marketing tool.

McIlroy is said to earn $20m (€15m) a year from his deal with Nike alone.

He is one of the most compelling golfers the world has seen. Yet, increasingly, off-course matters have tugged for his attention and the prospect of a hostile legal voice frisking him down in a courtroom next year will hardly make for an ideal opening to 2015.

In the meantime, the world can simply wonder about McDowell's private view of things and, particularly, the decision of his old friend's legal team to involve him so implicitly in proceedings.

McGinley, we can be certain, will make it his business to know the answer.

Irish Independent

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