BREAKING up is hard to do.
When you’re Rory McIlroy, however, and your whole life is played out like some soap opera in the blinding glare of the world’s media, it must be utterly excruciating.
Yet, within hours of a stunning statement issued by his publicity agent announcing that his engagement to tennis star Caroline Woznaicki is at an end, McIlroy fronted-up at a packed press conference in Wentworth yesterday.
This was an incredibly courageous effort by the 25-year-old, whose sombre demeanour, heavy eyes and solemn words left absolutely no room for doubt about his heartache.
The emotion welled-up when McIlroy was reminded by a reporter of his delight in Sydney last New Year’s Eve, when he proposed to Wozniacki, his girlfriend of two and a half years. So how tough was this for you, he was asked.
“Look, I’m no different than anyone else,” McIlroy replied after taking a pause. He briefly brushed his eye with his hand and pulled down his cap a little lower before adding: “Everyone has been through break-ups and it obviously has been very, very difficult.”
As for his prospects of focussing fully on this week’s BMW PGA Championship, the €5m showpiece event of the European Tour season, McIlroy said.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be very difficult. But you know, at least when I get inside the ropes, I’ll just try and concentrate on the shot at hand. But yeah, it’s obviously going to be difficult.”
Surely he was tempted to withdraw from the tournament, to seek comfort in privacy?
“No, I didn’t think there was any reason to do that. There’s no good time to sort of end a relationship, I guess. I made a commitment to be here at the European Tour’s flagship event … once I gave my word that I would play, I wasn’t going to back out on it.”
There was light relief when someone suggested “at least you’re at a golf course that you love?
The true course of McIlroy’s relationship with Wentworth has ne’er run smooth but he stated his determination to plot his way around the Burma Road this weekend.
At least he could look forward to yesterday’s pro-am date with former Peter Schmeichel, Philip Neville and Teddy Sheringham, members of the Manchester United team which won the 1999 Champion’s League, one of the highlights of McIlroy’s life as a full-blooded Red Devil’s fan.
“It’s going to be a nice afternoon,” he sighed. As he left the interview room, the lady from the New York Times shook her head and said: “How impressive was that. Everyone knows how hard it is to break up. There were moments there all I wanted to do was go up and give him a hug.”
FULL TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE (with European Tour Media Officer Michael Gibbons in the chair):
MICHAEL GIBBONS: Well, Rory, many thanks for joining us. I'm sure everyone here appreciates you coming in today. We've all seen your statement this morning so I'm just going to hand it over to you to start us off.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, obviously quite a difficult time for Caroline and myself, and I think the statement really said it all this morning. It was mutual and amicable and and we both thought it was the best for us, the best for both of us. Time to move on and I think I've said all that I need to say.
Just want to get my head into golf this week and concentrate on the tournament and try and do well. Been playing well. The form's been good. Just want to dive straight into it and keep myself somewhat busy and just try and have a good week on the course.
MICHAEL GIBBONS: Thank you. We'll take some questions.
Q. Realistically, how possible is that going to be to be able to concentrate on your golf?
RORY McILROY: I'm not going to lie. It's going to be very difficult. But you know, at least when I get inside the ropes, just try and concentrate on the shot at hand. But yeah, it's obviously going to be difficult.
Q. Were you tempted to pull out at any stage because of this, because it can't be easy with so much turmoil going on even though you've perhaps become almost used to it over the last 18 months, haven't you?
RORY McILROY: No, I didn't think there was any reason to do that. There's no good time to sort of end a relationship I guess.
No, I just I made a commitment to be here. It's the your European Tour's Flagship event. I'm very proud to be part of The European Tour. The European Tour have been very good to me over the last number of years, and I thought it was my duty to come back and play in this event. You know, once I gave my word that I would, I wasn't going to go back on it.
Q. Will this have any effect on your schedule in the next month or so? Might you play more events now?
RORY McILROY: I haven't I don't know. My schedule right now is here, Memorial and U.S. Open, Irish Open, Scottish Open, British Open. I don't think that's going to change.
Q. You had that sort of double delight in Sydney last year, winning the Australian Open and also being on Sydney Harbour when you proposed to Caroline. How tough a decision was it for you?
RORY McILROY: Look, I think I'm no different than anyone else. Everyone has been through break ups and it's obviously very, very difficult.
But look, I'm here to try and concentrate on this week and answer questions about golf and that's what I'm going to do.
Q. At least you're at a golf course that you love (laughter).
RORY McILROY: (Laughing).
Q. Can you just talk about your history at Wentworth?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, look, I've enjoyed my times here. I think it's a beautiful golf course. I've got great memories of the place from coming back and watching The World Match Play in the early 2000s as a kid. I've struggled on the course personally since they made the changes.
I'm trying to go in this week with the mind set of not getting frustrated and not just trying to play to my spots and not be frustrated that I might only get to hit driver two or three times a round and feel like my advantage of my length is taken away from me.
I'm just going to try, you know, just accept that you've got to plot your way around this golf course and not be overly aggressive. And that's really what I have to try and do, just sort of reign it in a little bit.
But it's a great event. It's always well supported by all the Europeans that come back and play on the PGA TOUR. It's the European Tour's Flagship Event. BMW are a great supporter of golf around the world, and this tournament deserves the best players and the best field, and it gets that. You know, hopefully I can put in a performance that's a little better than it has been the last few years.
Q. I think you were saying on the previous Sunday, the same kind of thing about Sawgrass, learning how to play the course. Same thing applies here?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, exact same thing. I think it's a very similar, the style of golf that you need to play here is very similar to the style of golf you need to play around Sawgrass. Again you don't get to hit many drivers at Sawgrass. You have to be not cautious, but just you have to position your ball in the right spots and just be patient.
I feel like I'm getting better at that. I had my best finish at Sawgrass a couple weeks ago, a couple of Top 10s in a row there, which is a big improvement. As I said, hopefully this week I can do something similar.
Q. How much have you looked forward to today's Pro Am pairing?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's going to be nice. I've been a Manchester United fan my whole life, and getting to play with three Manchester United legends is going to be a nice afternoon. I remember watching the Champions League final in '99 when United beat Munich in Barcelona, and it was a very memorable night. Obviously all those three guys were involved, and yeah, it's going to be a nice afternoon.
MICHAEL GIBBONS: Rory, I'm sure everyone joins me in wishing you well, thanks.