Belfast Telegraph

Has Rory McIlroy's magic returned?

By CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

It's been the worst year of Rory McIlroy's career – but Ulster's golfing superstar has now ended it on a high note.

A dramatic victory in the Australian Open yesterday brought McIlroy both a gleaming silver trophy and a welcome silver lining after what has been, by his standards, an annus horribilis.

The Holywood man started 2013 as the world's number one golfer after a stunning year which included his second Major championship, the US PGA.

He had also signed one of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in sporting history after agreeing to be Nike's newest ambassador – and off the course his romance with Danish tennis ace Caroline Wozniack was going well.

But the 24-year-old couldn't get to grips with the new Nike clubs that could eventually net him up to $100m (£85m) and his form disintegrated.

So too did his relationship with his management team, the Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management, and a painful legal battle ensued.

Rumours were also rife that Rory and Caroline's relationship had ended up in the rough.

Only last week the world number six admitted he couldn't wait for this most disappointing of years to end.

But now, courtesy of that sparking victory at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, McIlroy appears to have turned a corner at last.

"It's been a frustrating year – I've worked hard and it's been a process, trying to get back to winning golf tournaments again," said Rory after his one-shot win over local Aussie hero Adam Scott.

"It's not like I plummeted off the face of the earth. I'm still number six in the world. It's not the level I feel I can play to, but I feel I'm getting back there."

Rory says he is now looking forward to the new year, which he hopes will be bereft of the disappointments that peppered 2013 as his form deserted him. He even walked off the course during the Honda Classic in March, blaming toothache for his shock departure. At times, critics suggested his relationship with Wozniacki (23) was to blame.

The couple's every move together – and apart – happened in the media spotlight, with rumours circulating for months a split.

In October, sources close to the pair – who met in the summer of 2011 after meeting at a boxing match in Hamburg – told a Sunday newspaper that Rory had ended the long-term relationship.

But since then the sporting couple have been seen cheering each other on at events. And when Rory took the Australian title, the world number 10 tennis player took to Twitter to publicly praise him.

She posted: "What a great fight today by Rory! Amazing! Well done!"

North Down Mayor Andrew Muir added his congratulations to Rory on his victory.

He said: "It is great to see Rory win yet another golfing title. Everybody in Holywood is extremely proud of what he has accomplished at such a young age.

"He is a great ambassador for Northern Ireland. He is one of the most popular international sports stars and I am sure that this victory will continue our reputation as one of the golf capitals of the world.

"I am sure that this will not be the last title for Rory and I would like to wish him every success in next year's majors."

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