Karl MacGinty: Rory has nobody to blame but himself
Star will keep stumbling from crisis to crisis unless he hires PR guru to protect image and keep love life out of papers
FIRST, the important news! Caroline Wozniacki has reinstated a cuddly snap of Rory McIlroy and herself as the profile picture on her Twitter page: the two had dinner in New York on Saturday night and the Ulsterman is scheduled to attend the Dane's opening match at the US Open in Flushing Meadow tonight.
Fans of the biggest celebrity couple in sport clearly can dab their eyes and put away the tissues. As Mark Twain might have said, reports of the demise of their relationship clearly were greatly exaggerated ... or so we're told.
Tempting though it may be to get back to golf and McIlroy's defence of the Deutsche Bank Championship title this week on a course at TPC Boston which suits him, there are issues here which need to be addressed.
McIlroy was overtaken by Phil Mickelson in yesterday's official world rankings but, as he dropped to No 4, there was much in his 10th place at The Barclays to suggest he is returning to the mindset which underpinned his back-to-back FedEx Cup play-off victories at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships last year.
Not for the first time, however, the Holywood native's on-course performance has been overshadowed by affairs off it.
Over the past 12 months, for example, issues like McIlroy's choice of sides for the 2016 Olympics or his break-up with Dublin management firm Horizon led to persistent questioning which, understandably, irritated the 24-year-old.
In the absence of any meaningful, professional management of his dealings with the media, McIlroy is going to continue to face a lot more aggravation than he really needs to.
His 'Black Friday' at the Honda Classic in March, when McIlroy walked off and abandoned the tournament after completing just eight holes of the second round, is a case in point.
As he walked to his courtesy car in the parking lot, McIlroy confessed to following reporters that his head simply wasn't in the right place, an honest, heartfelt answer which earned respect and sympathy throughout the game for a young player struggling with demons every golfer knows well.
Yet the drama turned into an enduring PR crisis when, within the hour, a statement was issued citing wisdom toothache as the reason for McIlroy's withdrawal, sparking a 'mental or dental' debate which festered for five days until he (sort of) 'cleared the air' in a media conference the following Wednesday at Doral.
In fairness, Horizon were, I understand, in the process of appointing a full-time media and PR liaison officer for McIlroy when they were stunned by news last May of the player's decision to set up a team of relatives, friends and close confidants to manage his own affairs.
As lawyers from both sides make intensive efforts behind the scenes to settle contractual issues, McIlroy is in a managerial 'Twilight Zone'. He has placed Horizon at arm's length but, until the legal situation is resolved, cannot officially appoint his new team.
As a result, there was nobody on Team McIlroy available last Friday to answer questions stirred by the decision, coincidental or otherwise, of McIlroy and Wozniacki to take down the cosy profile pictures of each other at the top of their Twitter pages.
Was this a signal to the duo's 2.25m-plus followers? Efforts to get that question answered categorically last Friday were unsuccessful. There was nobody available who could go on the record and nip this matter in the bud.
When McIlroy arrived at Liberty National (in early evening, Irish time) for his second round, he was met in the car park by reporters, hassle he really should not have to endure on tournament day.
Understandably, he declined to discuss the matter until after his round, which concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning, Irish time. By this point, newspapers were already printing the view of 'friends', 'sources' and various other 'insiders' who had filled the vacuum.
One tabloid even quoted one as saying McIlroy and Wozniacki had been fighting "like cats and dogs all year". Good grief: with 'friends' like that, who in their right mind would want to be a celebrity?
Eventually, on Sunday, McIlroy put the issue to bed when he tweeted: "I'd love to know who this guy's source is. Seems to pop up in the papers all the time and is wrong 99.9% of the time."
Wozniacki, meanwhile, reinstated the picture of the pair, tweeting: "Since my profile pic made big headlines, I'd better change it again, lol. #dontbelievewhatyouread-inpapers."
The piece de resistance came yesterday morning with pictures of McIlroy, Wozniacki and her brother Patrik (in various stages of dress, as the tabloids might say) smiling over breakfast at her Manhattan base.
Incidentally, McIlroy was pictured wearing collar and tie, clearly for his visit to the New York Stock Exchange to ring the bell for the start of business.
How jolly ... yet a serious matter needs to be addressed if, in future, situations like these and others more important and potentially damaging (like the Honda incident), are not to be allowed to mushroom out of control.
For McIlroy's own sake and sanity, it is imperative that his new back-room team includes a full-time consultant to manage his media affairs – someone capable of expertly defusing controversies or crises.
From US presidents to captains of industry, men of vastly more life experience than McIlroy have PR professionals constantly at their right elbow. Tiger Woods and Mickelson have permanent media liaison officers.
If McIlroy had someone similar on the payroll, he'd be less likely to endure serious and unnecessary media setbacks, like a feature piece in the 'New York Times' last month which certainly did little for his image among the huge Irish diaspora in the US.
With the help of coaches Michael Bannon and Dave Stockton, he certainly appears to be getting his game and on-course attitude back where it should be.
Unless he recruits expert help in the media department, however, McIlroy is likely to continue staggering from one crisis to the next with nobody to blame but himself.
By Karl MacGinty
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.