Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Rory McIlroy still attracting wrong type of headlines

JERSEY CITY, NJ - AUGUST 24: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the third round of The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club on August 24, 2013 in Jersey City, New Jersey.  (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
JERSEY CITY, NJ - AUGUST 24: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the third round of The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club on August 24, 2013 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)

First, the important news! Caroline Wozniacki has reinstated a cuddly snap of Rory McIlroy and herself as the profile picture on her Twitter page.

The two had dinner in New York City on Saturday night and the Ulsterman is scheduled to attend the Dane's opening match at the US Open in Flushing Meadow tonight.

Fans of the biggest celebrity couple in sport clearly can dab their eyes and put away the tissues. As Mark Twain might have said, reports of the demise of their relationship clearly were greatly exaggerated ... or so we're told.

Tempting though it may be to get back to the golf and McIlroy's defence of the Deutsche Bank Championship title this week, on a golf course at TPC Boston which suits him to a tee, there are serious issues here which need to be addressed.

McIlroy was overtaken by Phil Mickelson in yesterday's Official World Golf Rankings but, as he dropped to fourth place, there was much in his 10th place at The Barclays to suggest he's returning to the confident, positive mindset which underpinned his back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff victories at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships.

Not for the first time, however, the Holywood native's on-course performance has been overshadowed by affairs off it.

Over the past 12 months, for example, issues like McIlroy's choice of sides for the 2016 Olympics or his break-up with Dublin management firm Horizon led to persistent questioning which, understandably, irritated the 24-year-old.

In the absence of any meaningful, professional management of his dealings with the media, McIlroy is going to continue to face a lot more aggravation than he really needs to.

His 'Black Friday' at the Honda Classic in March, when McIlroy walked off the 18th fairway and abandoned the tournament after completing just eight holes of the second round, is an obvious case in point.

His honest, heartfelt answer to reporters was that his head simply wasn't in the right place which earned respect and sympathy throughout the game.

Yet the drama turned into an enduring PR crisis when, within the hour, a statement was issued citing wisdom toothache as the reason for McIlroy's withdrawal, sparking a "mental or dental" which festered for five days until he (sort of) "cleared the air" in a media conference.

In fairness, Horizon were, I understand, in the process of appointing a full-time media and PR liaison officer for McIlroy when they were stunned by news last May of the golfer's decision to set up a team of relatives, friends and close confidants to manage his own affairs.

As lawyers from both sides try to settle serious contractual issues, McIlroy is in a managerial 'twilight zone', but until the legal situation is resolved, he cannot officially appoint his new team.

As a result, there was nobody on Team McIlroy available last Friday to answer questions stirred by the decision of McIlroy and Wozniacki to take down the cosy profile pictures of each other on their Twitter pages.

Was this a signal to the duo's 2.25m-plus followers? Efforts to get that question answered categorically and on the record last Friday were unsuccessful. Literally, there was nobody available who could go on the record and nip this mater in the bud.

When McIlroy arrived at Liberty National for his second round, he was met in the car park by reporters, hassle he really should not have to endure on tournament day.

Understandably, he declined to discuss the matter until after his round, which concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning, British time. By this point, newspapers were already printing the view of 'friends', 'sources' and various other 'insiders' who'd filled the vacuum.

One tabloid even quoted one as saying they'd been fighting "like cats and dogs all year". Good grief: with 'friends' like that, who in their right mind would want to be a celebrity?

Eventually, on Sunday, McIlroy put the issue to bed when he tweeted: "I'd love to know who this guy's source is. Seems to pop up in the papers all the time and is wrong 99.9% of the time."

Wozniacki, meanwhile, reinstated the picture of herself and McIlroy with the message: "Since my profile pic made big headlines, I'd better change it again, lol (laugh out loud). #dontbelievewhatyoureadinpapers."

With the help of coaches Michael Bannon and Dave Stockton, McIlroy certainly appears to be getting his golf game and on-course attitude back where it should be.

Unless he recruits expert help in the media department, however, McIlroy's likely to continue staggering from one crisis to the next with nobody to blame but himself..

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