Sport Golf

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Rory McIlroy’s court case could put Masters bid in rough

A court appearance beckons for Rory McIlroy early next year
A court appearance beckons for Rory McIlroy early next year

Kevin Garside

Rory McIlroy’s ongoing dispute with his former management company, Horizon, has already forced his withdrawal from two prestigious tournaments at the climax of the European Tour season.

We know the numbers, running into millions of pounds, and the associated reasons for the upcoming February trial in the Commercial Court in Dublin. And we also suspect that neither party will gain much out of airing their dispute publically.

Cynics might argue that McIlroy is grateful for an excuse not to cross 10 time zones to Shanghai to contest the BMW Masters and the WGC-HSBC Championship, but in this increasingly commercial era golfers do not readily snub the attentions of blue-chip sponsors.

The season has yielded unprecedented plunder. Two majors, at The Open and PGA Championship, a first WGC victory at the Bridgestone Invitational, and success at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth have left McIlroy with an unassailable lead in the Race to Dubai order of merit title.

Yet we have seen how off-field diversions can derail the best of careers, not least his own after the triumphs of 2012 fed into his worst season as a pro in 2013. Back then McIlroy put pleasure before business, indulging in long-haul romps with his then partner Caroline Wozniacki as well as signing with new club manufacturer Nike.

He admitted taking his eye off the ball. He went more than a year without registering a win after taking the Race to Dubai crown with victory at the tour finale in November 2012.

The split with Horizon first surfaced six months later at the Players Championship, and though McIlroy initially denied the rumours, the truth was confirmed soon enough. Eighteen months on, after a fortnight of intense legal negotiation failed to deliver a resolution, proceedings initiated by McIlroy are set for an ugly end.

McIlroy alleges Horizon led him into an “unconscionable contract” that paid out “excessive commissions”.  Horizon deny this and have counter-sued for unpaid commissions plus damages. The details will be laid before us in all their damaging glory, the deals, the tens of millions banked, the percentage draw-down of the golfing elites.

It is hard to imagine how anyone is well served by this, least of all a man who could, in abstract terms, settle the commissions owed without batting an eyelid. McIlroy obviously has his reasons, the validity of which will be decided by a judge who has already warned of the toxic nature of the revelations he knows are coming.

And all this two months before the tournament he has made it his priority to win. Victory at the Masters in April would complete the major set for McIlroy.

He has the game to win in any circumstances, of course, but he has also showed that he is vulnerable when matters spiral beyond his control, as this case might with devastating consequences for his reputation, should the judge decide in the opposition’s favour.

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