Superstar golfer Rory McIlroy has admitted he has changed and “grown up” over the past year which has seen him go stratospheric in the golfing world after his win at the US Open.
He’s also just picked up a £1.25m prize at the Shanghai Masters.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. There was the much publicised split with his long-term girlfriend, Holly Sweeney, and subsequent relationship with World Women’s No1 tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki, and some controversial comments.
He’s emphatically denied Wozniacki has influenced any of his decisions including his recent change of management.
McIlroy is not denying he has changed, but he fails to see why the cynics believe that all the success has altered him for the worse.
“Of course I've changed,” he said.
“It's all part of growing up. I'm still only 22 — there are people my age who are still at university.
“I've had a lot of life experiences over the past few years.
“I feel like the (Unicef) trip to Haiti changed me; I feel like winning the US Open changed me.”
McIlroy admitted he has spoken
without thinking at times and is still coming to terms with the media fascination with him.
“Yeah, I've been shocked at my profile,” he said.
“The things that go on... well, to my mind, like I said it doesn't seem like a big deal. I don't know whether it's just me.
“I've said a few things this year that I probably shouldn't have.
“For instance, after the Open when talking about the bad weather and how I wasn't going to change my game.
“I just try to be as honest as I can. I always want to be that way, I don't want to be guarded and give meaningless answers. I still want to be myself.”
The most recent focus on him has come from his decision to part company with his long-term agent, Chubby Chandler, for new management.
McIlroy has denied it was anything but a business decision and stated categorically that new girlfriend Wozniacki had no influence on his decision to part company with the man who’s been with him since his early days.
He said he was surprised at all the fuss as it was “nothing personal”.
The Holywood star added: “I was surprised at how much of a big deal was made out of it, because these things happen out here all the time,” said the US Open champion, after his final practice round for the HSBC WGC Championship.
“It was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life,” said McIlroy, who was first introduced to Chandler when he was barely out of his first spikes.
“And it's the toughest conversation to sit down with the person who has been there for you for the past 10 years.
“Look, I'll never forget what Chubby and ISM have done for me. They're a huge part of my career and if it wasn't for their help, I wouldn't be in this position.
“I felt like for four years, Chubby was the best person and ISM were fantastic for me.
“But sometimes to progress you need to have a fresh view on things. And this was something I felt I needed. It's not about endorsements or anything like that.
“It's about me trying to play my best golf. And that's all there is to it. I thought long and hard about it and I spoke to my Mum and Dad, who are 100% behind any decision that I make.”
In the aftermath, Chandler indicated that he, too, thought the reason was primarily business — essentially that McIlroy wasn't pleased with his ‘brand’ nor with some of the stature of his sponsors.
There was even the notion put forward that his burgeoning relationship with Wozniacki had turned his head to the potential of such fame. McIlroy dismissed all that with something resembling a harrumph.
The comparison with a young Tiger Woods is as obvious as it is inevitable.
He, too, switched managers as the spotlight intensified and he, too, was forced to accept that every minute detail of his life would be placed under the merciless microscope.
Perhaps McIlroy hasn't yet reached those levels; perhaps he never will. But it has got to the stage where he can nod at a journalist who referred to him as “the new Tiger”.
Last night at a HSBC function, Rory joined Ms Wozniacki on a simulated tennis court which measured their speed of serve — and he lost, not a feeling he’s used to.
But, last week he won £1.25m at the Shanghai Masters and now he attempts to win just his fifth title at this World Golf Championship extravaganza.
The near £750,000 first prize would leave him roughly £400,000 short of the world No 1 Luke Donald (absent this week to attend the birth of his second daughter) in the European Tour Order of Merit.
“I'm a long way behind Luke, but I have a chance here to really cut into his lead,” he said.
If only it was so simple.