Will split with Caroline Wozniacki put Rory McIlroy's woes behind him?
They were the golden couple of sport but as their world rankings slipped, so did their romance. Now, can the Holywood golfer recover his form?
Published 15/10/2013 | 10:42
It's the story behind a thousand movies. Up-and-coming boy is happily in love with the girl next door. They are the perfect couple, destined for married bliss. Then he finds fame and fortune and ditches her for a glamour model more in keeping with his new celebrity lifestyle.
But the pressure of life in the limelight is more than he can take. Without the solace of his one true love, our young hero's talents fail. Fickle friends desert him as his star slips and the glamour model moves on to claim a new trophy.
Chastened, our hero returns to his roots and the girl next door. She takes him back, as girls next door are wont to do.
Slowly they begin to rebuild their relationship and his career, this time aware that there are more important things than fame.
Well, that's how it goes in Hollywood, California.
In Holywood, Co Down, things are not so simple. There will be no such twist in the tale of Rory McIlroy, the boy from the Co Down town who became the world's top golfer, and Holly Sweeney, the childhood sweetheart he discarded for tennis star Caroline Wozniacki as he shot his way to the top.
Rory and Caroline have split up. An unflattering picture of the golfer in deep sleep, tweeted by the Danish tennis star, is said to have delivered the final blow to an always bumpy partnership.
But Holly is unlikely to be rebuilding her relationship with Northern Ireland's most eligible bachelor, who has slipped from number one to number six in the world golf rankings after a disastrous year.
The 22-year-old model has made it very clear that she holds no torch for her old flame.
"I've learned to laugh at the past and move on,'' she said via Twitter, the favourite communication medium of all involved in this saga. Nowadays Holly is seen on the arm of another sportsman, ice hockey player Jeff Mason, defenceman with the Belfast Giants. A great match, say the gossip writers.
So there will be no new dawn for Rory and Holly. But, in any case, the idea that Rory's misfortunes on the golf course resulted from his change of girlfriend is simplistic, to say the least.
In 2011 Holly was consoling Rory at Augusta when a traumatic final day cost him the US Masters. When, a few months later, he claimed the US Open with a majestic eight-shot lead they had already parted and his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki was well established when he captured the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island the following year.
Golf fans have no doubt, however, that changing partners has played a part in the decline of McIlroy's game. But the partnerships they regard as most important are those with a set of clubs and a management company.
He switched clubs from Titleist to Nike last year as part of a multi-million sponsorship deal and clearly has not yet come to grips with the new equipment.
His then management company, Horizon Sports, is estimated to have taken a commission of around $8m (about £5m) on the deal and that is said to be one factor that prompted McIlroy to abandon the Dublin-based company and set up his own, Rory McIlroy Incorporated, in which his father Gerry has a prominent role.
The switch has resulted in legal action, with claim and counter-claim reaching the High Court in Dublin yesterday where a judge decided the sums involved put the case outside his jurisdiction.
It will be heard in the Commercial Court, but not for another year.
And that's the sort of distraction that does nothing to sustain a successful golf career.
"If you're a young man like Rory, you can't play with worries," said nine-times Major winner Gary Player. "You can't have managerial problems, you can't have women problems. You've got to have a free mind.''
Player had a forthright piece of advice for the Holywood man – "find the right wife''. It was the secret of his own success, he said.
"Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and I won something like 55 majors between us,'' he explained. "We had three wives that were very, very special."
Whatever about his love life, many of those who have marvelled at Rory's brilliance and rejoiced in his success do feel that he takes on too much; that his problems may have more to do with burn-out than any mysterious loss of form.
Since turning professional in a blaze of publicity at the age of 18, McIlroy has constantly competed on the world tours.
Even in a time when sport stars start young, this is unusual. Tiger Woods was 20 when he turned pro; Phil Mickelson 21.
Rory is 24. At that age Mickelson had played just 71 professional tournaments and Woods 95. McIlroy's tournament tally has already passed 150.
But far from slowing down, Rory seems to relish activities that add to the pressure.
Yesterday he began a month-long Tour of Asia that is guaranteed to earn him more than $5m (£3m) in appearance fees.
Reports say that before hitting a ball at the Kolon Korea Open, McIlroy had been assured a payment of $1.58m (£980,000). Next week, he will pocket a similar sum to turn up for the BMW Masters in Shanghai.
His next stop is China's island resort of Haikou where he will play Tiger Woods in a repeat of last year's 18-hole showdown. That will be worth another $1m-plus (£600,000) for McIlroy.
After that he will head back to Shanghai for the HSBC WGC Championship.
It is a gruelling schedule with just a week's break from competition planned between the WGC and the European Tour's season-ender in Dubai, although it is believed he will remain in Asia to fulfil more sponsors' commitments.
During the past fortnight, McIlroy has spent time with Wayne Rooney after a Nike photoshoot, played golf with Bill Clinton, been pictured in a restaurant with Clinton and Bono and on TV at Ulster's Heineken Cup rugby victory over Northampton.
Add legal hassle and girlfriend problems to all this and you have a mix that is not conducive to winning the world's big golf tournaments.
Top German golfer Martin Kaymer told recently how he, a most level-headed and consistent performer, had been consumed by the pressure of being world Number One in 2011.
Explaining what McIlroy faced after winning a second Major title and storming clear at the top of the world rankings, he said: "Your life changes when you become that successful.
"I think you get distracted a lot and lose the focus a little bit, not because of yourself but because of the media, the fans, Twitter, Facebook and all that sort of stuff.
"Everybody talks to you. Everybody gives you their opinion without being asked. It does make a difference because it makes you think. I don't think Rory plays that badly. I think everyone makes it worse.''
Maybe so. But Rory has certainly done nothing to help matters.
If he can win in China, or better still manage consecutive wins, he could yet figure in the Race To Dubai Order of Merit. At the moment, he is placed 58 after a mediocre year. Only the top 60 qualify.
"It hasn't been the best season," he conceded. "All I am looking to do is finish the season on a high."
For that to happen we will need to hear a lot more about his golf and a lot less about his girlfriends.
'Blondes beware, you will always be second to star's real passion'
By Joanne Sweeney
Oh young Rory McIlroy – what a tangled love web you weave!
Another young blonde girlfriend is waved goodbye, another woman is left nonplussed as to what went wrong.
The 24-year-old champion golfer is reported as having finished his relationship with tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki.
Ms Wozniacki is said to be "completely devastated" by the split.
Much in the same way, no doubt, as his first serious girlfriend Holly Sweeney was when he abruptly ended their six-year-old romance to pursue Wozniacki.
Holly, who knew Rory from their hometown of Hollywood, has spoken of the chillingly calm manner he told her it was over.
Returning to the home they shared, after finally meeting the woman he had ogled many times in front of her, he said he "wanted to see how it would go with her (Caroline)".
As you do. Straight down the green, into the hole.
The ending of the power sports couple is said to have been over her tweeting a less than flattering picture of her sleeping boyfriend on Twitter.
Despite her love goggles declaring him to be the spit of Harry Styles of 1D, this candid snap did not favour the two-time major winner.
And that's not a good look for a golfer who needs to get back to his form to keep the multi-million dollar sports endorsements that go along with the wins.
In fact, Twitter and pictures seem to be the fastest way to end a celeb relationship these days.
Remember Russell Brand tweeting a photo of ex-wife Katy Perry just awakened without her make-up.
And was the publication of Cheryl Cole's picture of her rose-tattooed bottom all over social media a little too much for her former boyfriend Trey Holloway to take?
Time will tell whether Rory is a serial 'blondeiser' – a man who dates only blondes – a bit like that other major player Tiger Woods.
But most women will probably find him guilty of committing a few no-no's of the breaking-up game.
It appears Holly was the recipient of the not-too-common breakup, let's call it the King Henry VIII, where there is clearly another new woman more favoured.
And that's really tough and heartbreaking for anyone to cope with.
Caroline, it appears, may have been the victim of the more common "excuse break-up", where one party has decided it's over but waits until a suitable misdemeanour arises before breaking it off.
In her case, there is not yet another blonde ready to take her place.
But Rory has shown the same golfer's steady hand and unwavering eye when it comes to moving on.
So, to the next beautiful blonde, here's a tip – be prepared to accept that the real passion in Rory's life is his golf.
On course from childhood ...
Born in Holywood, Co Down, Rory is the only child of Gerry and Rosie McIlroy and was educated at Sullivan Upper School.
He began golfing at a young age, even showing his promise by reportedly hitting a 40-yard drive at the tender age of just 2.
He honed his skills at Holywood Golf Club, becoming the youngest member at the age of seven.
His skills further developed in his teens, including as a member of Europe's winning 2004 Junior Ryder Cup team.
In 2007, Rory turned professional, going to on to hold the ranking of World Number One and win the 2011 US Open.
He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to sport.