Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Home comforts will give Rory McIlroy chance to recharge batteries

Rory McIlroy with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki

Like Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy is looking forward to the Irish Open at Portrush next month — but maybe for slightly different reasons to his friend and mentor.

McIlroy might just find the home shores comforting after a difficult time in which he may well have discovered that golf is not as easy as he often makes it look.

The Holywood star learned a salutary lesson from the club-chucking frustration of his first-round 74 and shocking second round 79 which sent him tumbling out of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on nine-over par.

To his credit, the penny dropped instantly for McIlroy and one suspects he'll never again turn up so ill-prepared.

After Wentworth, Rory took the Eurostar to Paris to join girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki as she prepared for this week's French Open.

The Danish tennis ace tweeted a picture that evening of the two of them standing arm-in-arm and beaming happily in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Pedants will wonder how his trip to Paris was consistent with McIlroy's post-Wentworth statement that “it's probably good I have the next two days off to practice and get my game a little sharper” for Thursday's Memorial in Ohio.

But one doesn't have to be an avid reader of Barbara Cartland to rejoice in the relationship that McIlroy and Wozniacki have managed to forge amid the tinsel and glitter of international celebrity.

Even the vaguest memory of what it's like to be young and in love would prompt most people to wish them the very best... and instantly dismiss notions that it might in any way detract from their performances in the sporting arena.

Remember, McIlroy and Wozniacki were as much an item during the first six weeks of his 2012 season, when the Ulsterman won one and finished in the top five in the four other tournaments he played.

His victory at the Honda Classic in March propelled McIlroy ahead of Donald to World No 1 for the first time and the two of them have been swapping it ever since.

McIlroy's current problems are rooted in the threadbare playing schedule he's followed since his first flurry of events came to an end on March 11 at the Cadillac World Championship of Golf.

Incredibly, he played just 10 rounds of tournament golf in 73 days between Doral and last Thursday's opener at Wentworth.

McIlroy took three weeks ‘off’ between Cadillac and the Masters and after his disappointing 40th-place finish at Augusta, then waited 25 days before hitting his next ball in anger at Quail Hollow.

He finished second to Rickie Fowler without playing particularly well, but the chickens came home to roost at Sawgrass, as McIlroy missed the cut for the third time in three visits.

Basically, he took a flagging game and absolutely no momentum into Europe's showpiece at Wentworth.

McIlroy and his management team have yet to strike the difficult balance between keeping such an abundantly talented golfer fresh, yet sharp. McIlroy is the envy of many. Lee Westwood marvels at his “effortless power,” while Donald last Wednesday described him as “one of the most naturally gifted players there is.”

But Wentworth has left McIlroy in no doubt that raw talent is not enough.

Asked about McIlroy's difficulties at Sawgrass and patent discomfort in Wentworth, Donald said: “I think for Rory, it's just managing the heavy expectations on him more than anything.

“He obviously has this abundance of confidence and when he gets a sniff at the lead like he did at the US Open, he handled it beautifully. I'm sure he'll learn when to be aggressive, when to kind of lay back a little bit and manage courses a little bit better.”

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Golf fan Barry McGuigan can't wait to play Royal Portrush for the first time at the Pro-Am ahead of the Irish Open.

The former boxing world champion is patron of Clic Sargent, the official charity of the tournament.

“I can't wait to get out there and have a go, although I wouldn't rate my chances too highly in the Pro-Am,” said McGuigan.

Clic Sargent NI is a children's cancer charity which provides financial and emotional support for children and their families.

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