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Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are from the same country, but Rory's on a different planet now

McIlroy used to look to G-Mac for guidance and advice... but these days the golf world looks up to him

By Peter Hutcheon

So, how did it come to this? When you think of Rory McIlroy at the Ryder Cup – a competition he once famously dissed, funnily enough – you think of the young, rather naive upstart, cajoled by his older, wiser compatriot Graeme McDowell.

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You cast your mind back to Celtic Manor in 2010 and Rory's delight as G-Mac – fresh from winning the US Open – sank the crucial putt and the American challenge.

The dynamic, as McDowell likes to call it, had changed a little by the time Medinah came along in 2012.

By that time Rory had two Majors under his belt and was enjoying his best-ever year, one that would end with him on top of the world rankings.

Still, the chemistry between the two Ulstermen was still very much in evidence; try finding a post-Medinah celebration picture with the pair of them apart.

A lot, however, has changed in two years. G-Mac has won a few tournaments, sure – but Rory, after a difficult start to his new role as 'Nike ambassador', has gone stratospheric.

Two more Majors adorn his sideboard – and, perhaps more significantly, he is now the biggest draw in golf. Tiger Woods has long abdicated that crown.

McIlroy and McDowell may be from the same country, but they're no longer in the same league as golf players – something admitted by a frank and emotional G-Mac himself at Gleneagles yesterday.

The partnership – which, in truth, was nowhere near as productive in the Ryder Cup as some nostalgia-soaked observers think – is facing the end game.

You can't help thinking, though, that with two Ryder triumphs to their name, McDowell and McIlroy might have expected to be paired again this time. Or at least that would have been the thinking a few months ago...

Naturally, European skipper Paul McGinley has played down any suggestion that behind-the-scenes politics have played any part in his decision to separate the pair.

But the plain fact is that McDowell, however innocently, played a part in McIlroy's acrimonious split with management company Horizon.

And even though he, too, has parted company with the Dublin outfit, there is little doubt that relations between the two players are not quite what they once were.

McGinley can, however, cite purely golfing reasons for splitting the pair up.

They've played together six times in the last two Ryder Cups, but contributed just two and a half points to the team.

Two years ago at Medinah they lost to both Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the foursomes and to Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker in the fourballs, at which point the partnership was dissolved by captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

McGinley himself has said that originally he would have wanted to play the two men together, but has since hinted that it may not be his best option.

McDowell has been a stalwart of the European team for the past three Ryder Cups, but McIlroy's record is rather more modest with four wins and two halves from nine matches at Medinah and Celtic Manor.

And, as world number one, he has to be McGinley's go-to player this weekend; if that means keeping him and McDowell apart, then so be it.

Whatever the protestations of the players and the captain, the Horizon situation is still bubbling under the surface and is reason enough to keep the pair apart.

The fact is that if the case does end up in the Dublin courts next year, McIlroy's lawyers will request that documents containing sensitive financial information relating to McDowell be made public.

It is a key part of McIlroy's dispute with his former management team that McDowell enjoyed favourable terms at the company. Just last week a judge urged the two parties to try to come to a settlement, but that looks unlikely to happen and court proceedings could start as early as January.

There's no doubt that McIlroy and McDowell are not as close as they used to be and McIlroy did not attend McDowell's wedding earlier this year – although with playing commitments and scheduling it is perhaps easy to read too much into that.

McDowell did act as a mentor to McIlroy in his early days on the European Tour, but such has been his rise, that was not a role which held many long-term prospects.

The former US Open champion did acknowledge that the Horizon situation had placed his relationship with McIlroy under strain in a recent column in for the BBC Sport website.

"It has been a rough time over the last couple of years on the business side of things for both me and Rory because he has been involved in a lawsuit with my management company," he wrote.

"And it certainly has put a stress on our relationship; but we have put those things behind us this year. If anything our friendship has been strengthened by what we have experienced.

"We have talked about it and we would love to renew our partnership again.

"Myself and the other 10 guys would all love to be paired with the world's number one player.

"There would be a queue out of the door of players wanting to partner Rory and absolutely I would be among them. Who wouldn't want to team up with the guy who has played the best golf all summer?"

Certainly the legal wrangles do not appear to be having an impact on McIlroy's play and even though he has spoken recently of his desire to have the whole thing wrapped up as soon as possible, he says he has made sure it has not been distracting him on the course.

What sets McDowell and McIlroy apart is their attitudes to the Ryder Cup.

While McDowell has been happy to play the role of Europe's cheerleader-in-chief, McIlroy has never quite convinced that it means anything like as much to him.

It's perhaps something else that he has in common with Tiger that individual honours matter so much more to him than team events.

Almost missing his tee-time for his singles match at Medinah two years ago suggests that it's not his number one priority.

Would the same thing have happened on the Sunday of a Major?

A solution on the Horizon?

Rory McIlroy initiated proceedings against former management company Horizon Sports 11 months ago, suing them for alleged breaches of contract.

 The Dublin-based company counter-sued for commission owing, mainly over the 100million dollar contract signed by McIlroy with sportswear giants Nike.

 McIlroy's lawyers have asked for papers involving Graeme McDowell's contractual arrangements to be made available for the court hearing, which is scheduled to go ahead in February.

 McIlroy announced that he was leaving manager Conor Ridge and the Horizon team in September last year to set up his own management company.

 The basis of his case was that he signed a deal with Horizon that he shouldn't have because he was too young and inexperienced to know what he was doing, putting too much trust in agents to look after his welfare.

 McDowell was the highest profile golfer on the Horizon books prior to McIlroy's arrival. Previously they had represented mainly Irish golfers playing on the European Challenge Tour.

 Players like Gareth Maybin and Michael Hoey successfully graduated to the European Tour while at Horizon and as well as his Ryder Cup successes, McDowell went on to win the US Open while with the Dublin company.

 He announced his intention to leave them this summer and, like McIlroy, set up his own backroom team.

 A Dublin judge has asked both parties to work to seek an out of court resolution, but the two sides seem as far apart as ever and a court date in February still looks the likely outcome.

 That could take two weeks and would require McIlroy to take the witness stand, not ideal preparation for his tilt at a Grand Slam at the Masters in April.

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