Tuesday 12 December 2017

No threat to Rory 'Grand Slam' hopes in Court No 1

Whatever happens at trial 'it's not like he's going to have to play in an ankle bracelet'

Rory McIlroy swaps the golf course for the court this week
Rory McIlroy swaps the golf course for the court this week
Lewis Hamilton

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy swaps wide open fairways for the chilling formality of Court No 1 at Dublin's Four Courts today when the biggest legal case in Irish sports history goes to trial.

With tens of millions of Euro at stake, the battle between McIlroy and his former management company dwarfs even the 1992 'trial of the century', in which former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan was sued for libel by one-time mentor Barney Eastwood.

After five and a half weeks in Belfast's High Court, Eastwood's arm was raised. The bookmaker, also from Holywood, Co Down, was awarded £450,000.

Barring a last-minute settlement, McIlroy's Commercial Court case and the countersuit filed by his former agents could last six weeks or more, but we'll leave the legal complexities to those best-qualified.

Regardless of its outcome, this sorry tale already is an Irish sporting tragedy.

When, in December 2011, Comor Ridge and his small team at Horizon succeeded in adding US Open champion McIlroy to a client list that already included Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, it seemed as if Irish professional golf had arrived at its Camelot

That idyll was short-lived. McIlroy informed Ridge on April 1, 2013, within weeks of signing an amended and extended contract, that their relationship was over. He intended managing his affairs through Rory McIlroy Inc.

Amicable

When McDowell at the end of last year left on amicable terms upon completion of his contract, the firm was left with two Tour golfers, Lowry and England's Ross Fisher. A potentially powerful Irish voice in the corridors of power had been muted.

On the other hand, McIlroy doesn't shy from his responsibilities as World No 1. This was seen at its best in his support of Paul McGinley's bid to become Ryder Cup captain.

His decision to serve as patron of the Irish Open, meanwhile, underscored McIlroy's determination to use his influence for the good of the game here.

Though likely to spend six days-plus in the witness box, the impact this experience will have on McIlroy's prospects of completing his 'Career Grand Slam' at April's US Masters is likely to be negligible.

For the vast majority of the population, taking a case to the High Court would rank as the most stressful experience of their life, especially given the overwhelming financial implications.

The same conventions do not apply to McIlroy or his fellows at the pinnacle of world golf. These guys enjoy stress-testing themselves in situations likely to crush the rest of us.

For sure, McIlroy will be far removed from his natural habitat in the Four Courts and, potentially, having to answer questions in public about personal matters, like his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki or family members, could be very uncomfortable.

Yet it's difficult to imagine the witness box being any more traumatic than, for example, the first tee box on Ryder Cup Sunday at Medinah after McIlroy's madcap dash from the European team hotel by police car.

Could dissection by a barrister be any more chastening than McIlroy's Sunday afternoon implosion at Augusta's Amen Corner in 2011. This would have left others deeply scarred but it merely inspired this guy to a mould-shattering US Open victory 70 days later.

Tellingly, perhaps, amid the media hullabaloo surrounding last May's shock termination of his engagement to Wozniacki, McIlroy won that week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

So concerned was he last weekend about his impending court date, McIlroy claimed a second Dubai Desert Classic title in a record-equalling score.

Propelled

This win propelled him past Padraig Harrington in the European career money list with ¤24,303,886 banked from 141 events on his home Tour (against 373 played by Harrington).

That much money or considerably more could be on the line at the Commercial Court. Yet even eight-figure sums are of less consequence if, like McIlroy, you're expected to bank more than half a billion over the next 20 years.

Since turning pro in October 2007, McIlroy has won ¤39,125,362 in prize-money worldwide but has earned more than twice that figure in sponsorship and endorsements.

Jocular US Golf Pundit Michael Collins compared this case to "a bad divorce", adding that even "if things go horrifically wrong in Rory's court battle, what's the worst case scenario? He's going to lose a lot more money.

"It's not like he's going to have to play golf with an ankle bracelet on, because, believe me, if that were the case, his golf would have been a lot different the past year."

Chip yips suggest end is nigh for Tiger

AS Tiger Woods plunged out of the world's elite top 50 yesterday, the task he faces in fighting his way back into golf's upper echelons is twice as difficult now as at any other time in his career.

Tiger's confidence in his short game plainly has been rocked by a dose of the chip yips, while he can no longer rely on the marauding young professionals of today - like Brooks Koepka, such an impressive winner in Phoenix on Sunday - to be cowed by his reputation.

Woods was 56th in yesterday's rankings and on the evidence of Friday's 82 at TPC Scottsdale, his worst round as a professional, his nightmares around the green are unlikely to be resolved in time for this week's Farmer's Open at Torrey Pines.

Though TV pundit Paul Azinger, a winning US Ryder Cup captain in 2008, offered soothing words, saying those short-game problems could be resolved "in minutes", Tiger's former coach Hank Haney bluntly stated Woods has the yips with his wedges.

"When you have the yips you have issues," Haney said. "This isn't going away."

Tiger must pick up ranking points either in San Diego or the upcoming Honda Classic to return to the top 50 in time to play the Cadillac World Golf Championship in Doral in March.

Replaced at No 1 by Rory McIlroy last May, Tiger has performed so abjectly in his paltry five tournaments since, culminating in Friday's horror, that even making the weekend will be an achievement.

Meanwhile, a major changing of the guard is taking place.

Koepka, who picked up four victories during his apprenticeship on the Challenge Tour, then won the Turkish Airlines Open on the main European circuit last October, joins Patrick Reed as the second 24-year-old winner in four events on the US Tour in 2015.

In Europe, Rory McIlroy's win in Dubai ensured the first six events of the season all were won by players in their 20s for the first time since 1983.

R&A fails in its duty to McIlroy with Open Sky deal

THE R&A slept through the wake-up call given to golf by Rory McIlroy's failure to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.

With respect to Lewis Hamilton (right), who roundly thumped the Ulsterman in the poll after winning a two-horse race for the F1 world title, the British public's failure to grasp the enormity of McIlroy's Major-winning feats last summer was an indictment of golf and the way it promotes itself.

While all of Hamilton's Grand Prix race wins were available to mass audiences on terrestrial TV, only one of McIlroy's four momentous victories last summer, the Open Championship at Hoylake, was free to air.

The second two legs of McIlroy's spectacular hat-trick, the Bridgestone World Golf Championship and US PGA at Valhalla, not to mention his BMW PGA triumph at Wentworth in May, all were enjoyed only by exclusive pay-per-view audiences on Sky.

Therefore it was shocking over the weekend to learn that the R&A has sold the live rights for the Open Championship to Sky and that from 2016 on, only highlights of the game's oldest and biggest Major will be available free on the BBC (which, of course, is available here in the Republic).

At a time when membership at golf clubs all over these islands is shrinking, surely it behoves organisations like the R&A to ensure that the general public, especially kids, are exposed as much as possible to our most exciting young golfer ever.

The decision to 'sell' the Open to Sky for a reported £10m is short-sighted in the extreme.

Irish Independent

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