Rory McIlroy tees off at the Singapore Open today requiring a top-three finish to seal the European money list. Having already claimed that mantle on the PGA Tour, McIlroy would emulate Luke Donald last year in doubling up.
The pursuit of money in golf has become a stick with which to clobber McIlroy of late. The argument seems to be that his spirit, and the game's, might somehow be corrupted and his career prospects harmed by tawdry enrichment. Yet when he chose not to contest the lucrative WGC-HSBC Champions event in China last week McIlroy copped it from the organisers, who questioned his commitment to the sport and its sponsors.
The uncomfortable ground between rock and hard place is softened by the attentions of the former world No 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, with whom McIlroy likes to spend his free time. Maybe envy is behind the resentment felt towards the happy couple.
McIlroy points out that time away from the crucible of competition is a necessity if he is to fulfil his potential. His rise to world No 1 and the addition of a second major championship this year suggest McIlroy has acquired the right balance. But for the hard of understanding he offered the following defence in Singapore.
"It's a long season, a really busy summer with the Open Championship, Firestone, the FedEx Cup," he said. "I need those weeks where I can completely escape from this. Sometimes I forget what I am, what I do. I need those weeks when I'm away. It is very helpful for me. Golf is my life. I know how lucky I am, but sometimes you have to step away from it."
While his colleagues were contesting the final WGC event of the season at Mission Hills last week, McIlroy was in Bulgaria watching you know who compete. "Spending weeks with Caroline definitely helps," he said. "The biggest thing is managing time to see each other as much as we can. We do a good job of it but that is the biggest challenge for us."
There was sympathy for last week's sponsors, HSBC, who pump millions into the game in return, it must be said, for a stack of positive media coverage. "It's a big event, and it's a tough one to miss," McIlroy said. "But I can't play every week. If I had I would have played five in a row finishing the season and, after playing Turkey and the Ryder Cup and all the FedEx Cup stuff, it's just too much."