Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

What's making Rory McIlroy melt?

Rory McIlroy showed flashes of his old brilliance during the Desert Classic, but faded at the crucial moment

The whispering never stops. Right now, it's about Caroline Wozniacki walking inside the ropes at European Tour events and, heaven forbid, conversing with fiancée Rory McIlroy during his round.

Must be distracting, wiseacres surmised, after the disappointing final-round 74 which cost McIlroy his chance of a second Desert Classic title at The Emirates Club.

After all, didn't Wozniacki and McIlroy walk and talk together from the ninth green last Sunday to the 10th tee, where he promptly carved his drive into the desert on his way to the first of three calamitous bogeys in four holes?

There you are... case proven! Had the tennis star donned a black burka and moved anonymously among the large crowds, McIlroy would've beaten gallant Scot Stephen Gallacher by a street.

Hold it, Wozniacki appeared to be equally deep in conversation with McIlroy when they made the same journey by foot on Friday... and he birdied 10 on that occasion.

While we're at it, the happy couple spent several minutes together to the side of the 17th tee on Sunday as McIlroy waited for the green to clear.

Brushing

The decision to offer $2.5m (£1.5m) to the first to make a hole-in-one at 17 on Saturday or Sunday certainly did little for the pace of play in Dubai.

"It'd pay for a wedding," McIlroy quipped about that massive prize during the week and his tee-shot there on the previous day pitched 18 feet short of the hole, almost brushing the stick on the way past.

So, maybe he and Wozniacki discussed what flowers they'd have for the big day. Who cares? Especially since McIlroy made one of his only two birdies that afternoon at 17!

There are obvious reasons why Wozniacki should walk inside the ropes, but also pertinent questions to ask.

On Thursday, for example, as McIlroy put the finishing touches to his sensational opening 63 on the ninth, the majority of press photographers turned away from the action and started shooting pictures of someone else.

Guess who? Wozniacki, of course, and she genially complied with inevitable requests for autographs. Simple logistics make it wiser and less disruptive for her to be inside the ropes.

It certainly does tournaments and the European Tour no harm to be associated with one of the biggest celebrity couples in all sport.

Call me sentimental, but there was a lovely scene on Thursday when Wozniacki turned up at 18.

As McIlroy walked off the tee, she bade him a cheery good morning, from behind the ropes... drawing a broad smile and few whispered words of greeting in response.

Clearly, these kids are crazy about each other and they bring a real feel-good factor to the sport.

But where should the Tour draw the line? While inside-the-ropes access is granted to all wives and girlfriends at the Ryder Cup, it certainly is not at regular events.

Stephen Gallacher's wife Helen attended last Sunday's final round with their two young children, Jack and Ellie, and might or might not have wanted a closer view of the action.

Yet if the facility is offered to Wozniacki, might other close relatives not reasonably expect it too, especially if there are big crowds and tight corners on the course.

Still, it's patently absurd to suggest McIlroy's performance was disrupted by Wozniacki's presence.

For a start, the Danish tennis ace knows enough about competing at an elite level not to take on-course conversations down any disruptive avenues.

With his performance last Thursday, McIlroy displayed the class which got him to the top of the world in golf.

On Sunday, when a series of putts infuriatingly failed to drop, denying him any momentum, McIlroy showed with subsequent error-strewn play that he's still bruised and fragile after the nightmares of 2013. No more and no less.

* JUST two tournaments into the new season and Tiger Woods has already been tagged with his "worst start in 18 years as a professional".

Yet Woods himself wasn't perturbed by his setbacks at the Farmers Insurance Open or the Dubai Desert Classic.

Okay, he drove in the desert so much over the first two days in Dubai, one writer suggested Woods should've hired a camel instead of a caddie.

And on Sunday, Sky Sports analyst Ewen Murray even described Tiger as "the worst I've seen him technically."

Yet Woods was happy with "a little bit of a fix" made on Friday night.

It was "something very simple" with the grip but "unfortunately I turned it around too late" to contend.

A comment that afternoon confirmed that Tiger is concentrating on the bigger picture.

"I took a long break (over the winter) and didn't really do anything much. Just tried to get my body organised and that part has materialised, which is nice," he revealed.

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