Rory McIlroy at the DP World Tour Championship 2013Rory McIlroy has had a tough year mentally. Picture: Denise Cleary

Rory McIlroy sounded just a little jaded in his press tournament press conference ahead of the Australian Open, which is hardly surprising considering he has travelled from the US to Korea, China, Dubai and the US again before heading touching down in Sydney this week.

Whatever about the physical stresses faced by globetrotting sportsmen, the withdrawal of England batsman Jonathan Trott from the Ashes series with a stress-related illness certainly elicited some sympathy from the 24-year old Co Down man.

“As sport becomes so big it’s becoming more common that these sorts of stress-related illnesses are happening and it just shows how much of a mental toll it takes on you sometimes,” McIlroy said. “It’s sad to see something like that happen… hopefully he gets home and spends some time with his family and recovers and can come back.”

It was no surprise to hear McIlroy admit that he has found 2013 to be a “mentally draining year.”

Nor was it particularly surprising to seem him raise an eyebrow at the outrageous level of “sledging” that marked the first Ashes test, as anyone with basic lip-reading skills will tell you.

A little good-natured banter with his pal Tiger Woods is enough for the world No 6, who has never been a man to take what he considers excessive criticism very well. No wonder Pádraig Harrington advises up and coming golfers like Kevin Phelan not to ready anything that’s written about them.

It’s only natural for a young sportsman to be affected by unfair and gratuitous fault-finding and McIlroy inner circle. Just ask Jay Townsend, who criticised McIlroy’s course management and the performance of his caddie at the 2011 Irish Open.

“Shut up. You’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!” the US Open champion told Townsend, via Twitter.

That wasn’t a great week for McIlroy, who appeared to find it tough to come to terms with the attention he got after winning in such sensational fashion at Congressional - a win for the ages considering he had a very public meltdown in the Masters just a few months earlier.

That comeback was hailed as proof positive that McIlroy is as mentally strong as they come. But doubts have been expressed about McIlroy’s mental toughness by senior colleagues on both sides of the pond and there’s no denying that on the evidence of 2013.

He may not have their experience but one wonders how long it will take McIlroy to overcome this particularly high hurdle.

“Physically, golf doesn’t take that much out of you but mentally it is quite draining,” McIlroy said in Sydney. “And especially for me this year, not just being frustrated with my game but having to answer all the questions and come up with reasons why I am not playing well and all that stuff.”

Faced by adversity, high expectations, swing problems and off-course wrangling over money, McIlroy effectively wrote off the season.

He had a major meltdown at the Honda Classic, a temper tantrum at the US Open and simply floated through the Open like a man who’d been hit over the head with a lead pipe.

Rich as Croesus but ill-equipped to deal with being one of the most recognisable sportsmen on the planet, he’s discovering what caused Woods to hit that fire hydrant five years ago this week.

He needs great advice now more than ever.

If he gets it, one suspects that we will see a stronger, tougher McIlroy in 2014. He will have to be.