Sport Golf

Monday 20 January 2020

Karl MacGinty: Tour circus has a Tiger, a clown and a ringmaster

Rory McIlroy doesn't play well in foul weather.
Rory McIlroy doesn't play well in foul weather.

Karl MacGinty

IT was fascinating at Wentworth to hear Rory McIlroy pluck a truism from the Big Top. "If you want to be in the circus," said McIlroy, "you've got to put up with the clowns."

Well, there were plenty of clowns cavorting around and about the BMW PGA Championship... surprisingly few of them in the media tent.

Sergio Garcia should have a 'Red Nose Month' all of his own following that pathetic and inherently racist 'fried chicken' barb at Tiger Woods during the European Tour Awards Banquet.

Though summoned to a meeting with Tour chief executive George O'Grady and visiting US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, Garcia escaped official sanction, which reflected poorly on the sport.

The Spaniard received a warm, enthusiastic reception from the galleries at Wentworth but the crowd at next month's US Open at Merion is unlikely to be as forgiving.

Back in the 1960s, Philadelphia sports fans infamously booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs when he made an appearance at an Eagles NFL game during the festive season.


Interestingly, Garcia revealed on Sunday that he'd failed with several attempts to contact Woods by phone.

Instead, he rowed in with a suggestion from Tiger's back-room team that he take the opportunity to apologise face to face during US Open week, which should keep the pot boiling for the next fortnight.

O'Grady deserved as much sympathy as opprobrium as he took a pasting from the media for suggesting in mitigation of Garcia that many of the player's friends are "coloured athletes".

The vitriolic reaction of the Fourth Estate to an embarrassing but unintentional faux pas by the Tour chief executive was sadly typical of political correctness gone mad.

Commonly referred to in England as 'Paddys' or 'Micks', we Irish know that racism is expressed not in words but through tone and intent. On that count, O'Grady was innocent and, having heard his remark first-hand, Garcia was not.

Of course, McIlroy's week at Wentworth was dominated by another side issue: his impending departure from Dublin management company Horizon Sports to set up his own back-room team comprising family, friends and close confidants.

The World No 2 brought in the clowns when asked on TV if speculation generated by this baffling latest development in his career had affected him. Taking his circus analogy further, McIlroy has long been the ringmaster in his own career.

So far, he and Horizon have declined to comment, which is understandable given potential legal and financial implications. Remember, the contract McIlroy signed with the Dublin firm 18 months ago has several years to run.

Yet in the absence of any explanation or obvious reason for the split, it's difficult to comprehend why he'd make this move at this time in the season.

Inevitably, it brings pressure to bear on the 24-year-old. After bearding the European media lion at the BMW PGA, McIlroy doubtless will endure further interrogation when he pitches camp in Dublin, Ohio, for this week's Memorial Tournament.

Of course, all the shenanigans obscured the central question – why has McIlroy's form fallen off a cliff in 2013?

Last Friday's missed cut can in part be attributed to bitterly cold, wet conditions at Wentworth. Despite a couple of boyhood victories at the notoriously intemperate West of Ireland Championship, McIlroy doesn't play well in foul weather.

However, neither this nor McIlroy's eye-opening decision to change all 14 clubs in his bag in January explains why he's failed to perform anywhere close to full potential in all but a handful of 34 competitive rounds he's played in 2013.

Poor scheduling has been an obvious factor. The stop-start nature of his season so far has left McIlroy without momentum – though, conversely, it may ensure his reserves are topped up for the long, hot summer.

It would come as no surprise, for example, if his unavoidably intensive programme over the next 12 weeks will help McIlroy find top gear for July's British Open at Muirfield; the defence of his US PGA crown at Oak Hill and the late-season climax of America's FedEx Cup.

Still, with the exception of his final-round 65 at the Cadillac Championship in March and a decent second place in San Antonio, McIlroy's form this year gives the impression of a young player, however gifted, still seeking the optimum path.

Even as a double Major winner, McIlroy probably would benefit more from firm and sage professional guidance (as a golfer) than the opportunity to exercise yet more control over his affairs.

Yet McIlroy not only yearns to top the bill at his circus, he also likes to crack the whip.

Irish Independent

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