Legal minefield in alleged McIlroy-Horizon split
Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow earlier this month. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow earlier this month. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Rumours of a split between Rory McIlroy and Horizon Sports Management have been rife in tour circles for weeks.

But while the Irish Independent felt confident enough legally to go with the story this morning that McIlroy is planning to go out on his own and manage his affairs, it’s highly unlikely that he will comment on any plans he may have when he turns up at Wentworth for the BMW PGA next week. He denied the rumours when asked by reporters at The Players Championship last week.

The world No 2’s contract with the Dublin-based boutique company and any move to leave and set up on his own is a legal minefield, we have been told.

Horizon boss Conor Ridge, who has not been returning texts, calls or emails requesting an interview for several weeks, gave the Irish Independent a no-comment style comment last night which presumably gave the Dublin-based national enough confidence to go to print.

“We simply do not comment on industry rumours or speculation,” he insisted. “Horizon Sports Management always has and always will give first priority to the confidentiality of its clients.”

Ridge’s coments echo his response to a request for comment on McIlroy’s move to Nike last year - we don’t comment on speculation.

An end to the relationship between the two-time major winner and his management, which many insiders insist is a fact, would require an exit strategy “that will save face” for both sides.

Horizon employs 12 people but neither Ridge, his No 2 Colin Morrissey or Sean O’Flaherty, the agent who works closely with McIlroy in the field and was on site during his Honda Classic walkout, would respond to enquiries until last night’s “no comment” by the management company’s founder.

What is true is that managing McIlroy has been challenging from the start.

ISM’s Andrew “Chubby Chandler” signed the 18-year old in 2007 and held on to him until November 2011 when he made the surprising move to boutique firm Horizon.

McIlroy was reportedly unhappy with the way his brand was being handled and joined his friend Graeme McDowell at Horizon, going on to win his second major last year as well as Player of the Year honours on both sides of the Atlantic. He had become world No 1 earlier that season.

New deals were struck with Nike and more recently Omega and Bose, making McIlroy the third richest active golfer according to Sport Illustrated’s recent rankings of sport’s richest athletes. Long-standing sponsors that supported him from the start of his career, have been phased out gradually.

Only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have earned more than McIlroy over the last 10 months with the 24-year old’s earnings from July 1 2012 to April 21 2013 estimated by the magazine at $33,336,796 compared to $40,839,027 for Woods and $39,528,000.

SportsPro Magazine also rates McIlroy third in its list of the world’s most marketable athlete behind Brazilian footballer Neymar, believed to be on his way to FC Barcelona next season, and Lionel Messi, winner of the last four Ballon D’Or.

McIlroy’s form has been poor this year by his high standards and he now trails Woods by a considerable margin in the world rankings having lost his world No 1 status when Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the end of March.

What is clear is that McIlroy has always been regarded as headstrong by those who have worked closely with him since he burst on the scene in 2007.

As Ridge told The New York Times’s Karen Krouse earlier this year, in a piece headlined “The Branding of Rory McIlroy”, “he’s the boss.”

McIlroy’s comments in the media have generated plenty of controversy and his stance on who he might represent in the 2016 Olympic Games has arguably reduced his fanbase in the Republic of Ireland.

Close friends contacted by me recently confirmed that they have not been in touch with McIlroy for weeks, “unfortunately”, said one.

The Holywood Co Down native is selling his home outside Belfast and now spends all his time at his new home in Florida.

He is scheduled to play in the Irish Open at Carton House next month alongside Horizon stablemates Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Ross Fisher.

And while his affairs have always been handled by Horizon by outsourcing to the best brains in the business, he is clearly determined to have more hands on control.

What has been clear to those of us in the media is that he needs better PR and media advice.

Whatever happens, talk of a split is distraction he could do without ahead of the meat of the season. Perhaps, like his move to put all 14 Nike clubs in the bag at once, he simply wants to “get it all settled and have it over and done with.”