Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Rory McIlroy hits a rough patch, Caroline slips in the world rankings... has it all gone wrong for the golden couple?

Two poor performances in recent tournaments have seen the critics lash out at golfing superstar Rory McIlroy. They are so wrong, says Ivan Little

Rory McIlroy

Let's get John de Chastelain back here right now. It’s probably high time the worthy Canadian general helped decommission the weapons the snipers are using to take pot-shots at Rory McIlroy, with a double-barrelled criticism of his relationship with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki to boot.

Two stuttering performances at the BMW PGA championship at Wentworth and at the Players’ Championship in Florida this month have fired Rory into the sights of the critics who are only too keen to knock him off his pedestal as one of the world’s greatest golfers.

He missed the cut on both sides of the Atlantic and such was his frustration in England that he threw a golf club away, earning the wrath of the tournament organisers and bloggers who even sneered that he should invest in anger management courses and show more professionalism after one of his worst performances ever.

Other internet forums have been red hot too, trying to get to the bottom of the Rory story.

Ridiculously, Rory has been dismissed as over-rated by a number of posters who said he was never much good anyway, overlooking the self-evident reality that golfers don’t win Major championships with smoke and mirrors.

He’s also been lambasted for a pre-Wentworth quote that he was the best golfer in the world.

Big head, they called him, but Rory didn’t say that.

What he did say was that he believed that on his day he could beat anyone. Which is true, an example of the sort of self-belief that’s an essential part of any sportsman’s game.

Other critics blamed his relationship with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki for the dip in his game.

“He’s punching above his weight there,” said one poster in what smacked more of the bitter word of jealousy than anything else.

Last year Rory was feted as the most talented and exciting golfer of his generation but now there’s no doubt that his relationship with Wozniacki is at the very heart of his recent dip in form.

And who says so? Why Rory McIlroy himself, though maybe not in just so many words.

“I took my eye off the ball,” he admitted after Wentworth where a stray McIlroy shot hit a spectator on the head, “I did not practice as hard as I might have done”.

Which was probably shorthand for the distractions of his treks here, there and everywhere across Europe to meet with his tennis star girlfriend.

She didn’t have her own problems to seek either after injury forced her to withdraw from a tournament in Rome where Rory enjoyed sightseeing outings, pictures of which were posted on his Twitter page.

His critics have claimed his long-distance love match has thrown his life and his career off balance and that he should get back to focusing on birdies of another kind.

Rory says that’s exactly what he has been doing as he prepares for his next tournament — the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio — which tees off this week.

Friends say no-one knows Rory McIroy's faults better than the Holywood golfer himself.

But what the nit-pickers forget is that Rory has only just turned 23 and that with maybe up to £11m in the bank, it’s not hard to imagine that he might be tempted to indulge in the good life that any young hot-blooded man of his age would want to enjoy.

It’s not as if he’s been doing anything that he shouldn’t have been doing. If he had, the world would know by now because everywhere he goes, his by now world-famous face draws a crowd of adoring fans and paparazzi, armed with an expensive lens or mobile phone cameras.

Rory’s friends say he’s still sensible and grounded but a lesser mortal’s head could easily be turned by the circus which surrounds him every day.

Last week it emerged Rory is second on a list of the 50 most marketable sports stars on the planet.

The only man in front of him on the list compiled by SportsProMedia.com is Brazilian soccer star Neymar.

The ranking criteria include future monetary value, charisma, age and willingness to engage sponsors.

The website says fans at golf courses root for Rory with the same kind of enthusiasm they would normally reserve for their own sons and daughters

That’s why sponsors like Santander, Sunseeker and Titleist are queuing up to throw millions of pounds and dollars at the 2011 US Open champion.

Tiger Woods just about makes the cut at number 47.

If Rory’s worth a fortune, girlfriend Wozaniacki isn’t likely to be selling the Big Issue anytime soon either. Her earnings for last year have been estimated at around £8m.

She’s listed at number 13 on the ProSportsMedia.com rankings of the world’s most marketable athletes thanks to her sponsorship deals from the likes of Sony Ericsson, Turkish Airlines and Adidas sportswear designed by Stella McCartney.

She may no longer be tennis number one but the top 50 compilers say her relationship with Rory puts her “squarely in the public eye as one half of what is without doubt sport’s most marketable couple”.

It’s a relationship which is played out in front of millions every day on Twitter, with the talented pair whispering sweet nothings to each other over the social network when apart.

It mightn’t be the sort of love story that Rory‘s advisers and his legion of fans want him to concentrate on at the moment.

But as his father Gerry McIlroy said after the Wentworth debacle: “There’s always tomorrow. It’s not the Olympics.”

Anyone writing Rory off before the US Open and even the Irish Open next month might want to remember that in recent weeks, even Usain Bolt hasn’t been up to par.

And only a fool would bet against him in London...