While there’s still no news on why Rory McIlroy suddenly dropped his social networking connections with Lee Westwood and Chubby Chandler, the world No 3 insisted in Shanghai that his split with ISM had nothing to do with money and everything to do with winning more silverware.
The US Open champ, 22, sacked his long-time manager a fortnight ago to join Graeme McDowell at Dublin based Horizon. The furore his decision caused surprised him massively, he said on the eve of the WGC-HSBC Champions. But one wonders if that’s the case of a decision he describes as “no big deal” one minute and “a decision that I didn’t take lightly” the next.
“I was surprised at how much of a big deal was made out of it,” McIlroy said. “These things happen all the time. With me sometimes, it’s made into a bigger deal. I just changed management companies, and that’s all there is to it. It’s not that big of a decision. It’s not that big of a deal. We’ll still remain friends, and it’s always going to be that way.”
Whatever about the deeper reasons behind McIlroy’s decision to jump ship, it appears clear that he’s been impressed by what Horizon has done for pal McDowell, especially when it comes to putting trophies on the mantelpiece.
“It’s not about endorsements or anything like that. It’s about me trying to play my best golf. And that’s all there is to it. And I feel that a new environment around me would enable me to do that. I can’t put a date on when I decided. I’m not saying that it has been in my mind for a few years, but I have always seen at close hand how great a job Conor [Ridge] and Horizon have done for G-Mac.”
McIlroy has become a major winner and a multi-millionaire under Chandler but last Sunday he added another $2m (€1.45m) to his bank balance by winning just his fourth pro title in the unofficial Shanghai Masters at Lake Malaren.
Dismissing cash as his reason for leaving Chandler’s stable, he made it clear that he’d gladly swap a few noughts from his bank balance for a few more W’s, as Tiger would say.
“We are very fortunate to play for a lot of money but you know, no amount of money can substitute how it feels to win golf tournaments, and that’s all I’m trying to do,” McIlroy said.
Speaking with radio reporters after his press conference, McIlroy did his best to ease the pain suffered by ISM over the past fortnight by declaring his support for the English agency and its larger than life leader.
“It is about me trying to play my best golf,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. I feel like with a new environment around me it might enable me to play even better. Chubby has been there for me since day one and it was very difficult for me. I was very close to him and remain very close to him.
“It was a purely business decision and nothing personal at all. I have got all the time in the world for Chubby and everyone involved at ISM. It was very difficult for me and just a decision I felt I needed to make.”
If there were underlying tensions between McIlroy and ISM over the way his “business” was being handled, he’s certainly not making them public. The official line is that he wants to win more.
“It’s a decision that I didn’t take lightly,” he said of the decision he earlier described as “not that big a decision.”
He added: “I thought long and hard about it and had a lot of chats with my Mum and Dad. Sometimes to go forward in your career you just need to make decisions and I thought it was a decision that I just needed to make.
“I felt that for four years Chubby was the best guy and ISM were fantastic for me. But sometimes just to progress, you need to have a different view and a fresh view on things and it was something I felt like I needed.”
Words such as “fresh” and “progress” suggest that things might have been “stale” and “stagnating” despite the major win and the millions in the bank. As he said in his post round interview at Lake Malaren: “I haven’t won enough in my four years as a pro.”
What the change will be in real terms remains to be seen but one suspects the UNICEF Ireland ambassador won’t be chasing the appearance money as overtly.
His recent eight-day tour of China came in for heavy criticism in some sectors of the British press and it will be interesting to see what happens now. Will Horizon can cut down in the Wheelbarrow Tour appearances? Exactly what steps can they take to help him become a more prolific winner?
Last week’s wobbly win at Lake Malaren on the other side of Shanghai to this week’s $7m WGC bash will certainly have given McIlroy a confidence boost after just three wins in over four years as a pro.
The Irish world No 3 says he wants to become European No 1 this year but knows it will be very tough to overhaul Race to Dubai leader and world No 1 Luke Donald as he plans only three more European Tour starts.
Donald holds a massive €1.31m lead over McIlroy who is chasing a €842,217 top prize at Sheshan International this week.
Refusing to throw in the towel, more out of loyalty to the European Tour than any realistic hope of actually pulling it off, McIlroy said: “I’ve got three big events coming up. The World Cup doesn’t count but this week, Hong Kong and Dubai do - so three more chances to really try to cut into his lead.
“With him not being here is this week because his wife is giving birth to their second child, I feel like I’ve got a chance to cut into that lead a little bit.
“It would be fantastic to get another win, the second win in two weeks. But it’s such a strong field here, and there’s a lot of guys with a chance to win.”
No mention from McIlroy there of his decision to skip next week’s Barclays Singapore Open or the following week’s Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia. If the Race to Dubai title was a goal, he would have said no to the Kolon Korean Open and the eight-day publicity trip to China and rested up for the Grand Slam of Golf and a big run of events in Asia.
It’s too late for that now with McIlroy and his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1 tennis player, set for a two week holiday on Sunday night.
“This is the first time that she’s at a golf tournament,” he said of the Danish star, who put up with heavy rain during Wednesday’s practice rounds. “And if the weather keeps going like this, it might be the last one she’s at, as well.”
The 78-man HSBC Champions field features this year’s Major winners with Open champion Darren Clarke keen to bounce back to form after a miserable run since he lifted the Claret Jug.
The 43-year old from Dungannon has played just five official events since his Sandwich heroics, missing the cut in three with a best finish of tied 35th in the Omega European Masters.
McIlroy’s World Cup partner Graeme McDowell also needs a boost after slumping to last place in Valderrama last week with weekend rounds of 81 and 82.
Dunhill Links winner Michael Hoey completes the Irish challenge by making his debut in a World Golf Championship.