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Rory McIlroy taking a major gamble parting with caddie JP

 

Rory McIlroy has taken one of the biggest risks of his career by parting company with caddie JP Fitzgerald ahead of two top tournaments that can define his season.

It's not so much the fact of McIlroy splitting with his bagman after nine eventful years which produced magnificent rewards for both of them, because Tour insiders know that longevity of player-caddie relationships is the exception rather than the norm.

So yes, there was shock that this divorce came seemingly out of the blue, but the key question is: "Why now?"

Why would McIlroy take such a risk as disrupt his routine and relationship with the one man who has been at his side since the days in early 2008 when as a newbie Tour pro he struggled to find his equilibrium and replicate the magic of his amateur exploits?

This week, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, guarantees McIlroy four badly needed competitive rounds among the elite players in the game.

And next week, well, there's Quail Hollow, one of his favourite courses where the US PGA Championship offers a last shot at Major glory in 2017.

So what does the Ulsterman do? He drops JP off the bag. He puts himself smack bang in the centre of a major media storm. He immediately ramps up the pressure on his performances.

Say what you like about McIlroy, he's a great man for making the world take notice.

I'm not saying he does it just for notoriety, not a bit of it. Rory is honest, gives his opinion without fear and calls the situation as he sees it.

However, this is a decision from out of left field.

Had he rounded off the season, one which has been disrupted by his rib injury, with an announcement along the lines of, "Thanks, JP, but our time has passed", it would have not caused such a sensation.

But to drop the man who knows you and your game intimately, and who has endured all the highs and lows of your career, and to do it when the signs are looking positive for your game, is a bold move indeed.

Foolish? It will be fascinating watching the Bridgestone and the US PGA to find out.

Paul McGinley, who has watched the rise of McIlroy and who captained him in the 2014 Ryder Cup win at Gleneagles, knows both men very well, and gave Fitzgerald his break into the caddie role.

"I'm disappointed for JP. I gave him his first job. I think he's done a tremendous job with Rory. He can hold his head high. But the merry-go-round of players and caddies has always been part of life on Tour," said McGinley.

"I rate him very, very highly, and he'll be hard to replace."

On the timing issue, McGinley said: "That is surprising, but Rory knows the answer to that. I don't know the reasoning behind it. Only Rory knows.

"It is surprising with one Major to go, particularly on a golf course where JP has won with him twice.

"They've got a great record there and JP knows the golf course well, but only Rory can answer that."

McGinley employed Fitzgerald for over seven years and they shared some great moments, with winning the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 2002 one of the big highlights.

Inevitably there came a time when they had to go their separate ways, and McGinley's view of the nine years of the McIlroy-Fitzgerald combo is that they had a very good innings.

"That's way above the average length of time that caddies and players stay together," he said.

"They've had a great partnership, culminating in four Majors and a huge amount of wins. They both can walk away from the relationship with really good memories.

"There's a sell-by date with caddies which is regularly illustrated on Tour.

"They've shared a lot of experiences, and they'll walk away as friends, I'm sure."

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