McIlroy facing uncertainty after year of total control

Rory McIlroy during the final round of the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: David Lloyd /

Rory McIlroy's 2014 season has run as smooth as silk with two major wins punctuating an outstanding campaign that has featured a series of annoucements that could have been better scripted had they been prepared by the Nike people who choose his clothing.

On Monday he was making headlines again, issuing a statement to say he's skipping his next two scheduled events in China — the BMW Masters, which starts at Lake Malaren on Thursday week and the following week's WGC-HSBC Champions — to prepare himself for his March court date after mediation in his legal dispute with Horizon Sports Management failed to resolve that thorny problem.

"I'm going to need time away from tournament golf to prepare for the trial over my legal dispute with Horizon Sports Management," McIlroy said in a statement. "The court-direction mediation process failed over the weekend to resolve the issue."

That the mediation failed was no surprise given the history of the case. But his absence from the first two playoff events of the Final Series is certainly an eye-opener and bad news for the European Tour and its big sponsors.

George O'Grady will be relieved that McIlroy is not skipping the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, which he must play in order to win the Harry Vardon Trophy awarded to the winner of the Race to Dubai.

McIlroy has such a massive lead —  he's €3.1m clear of second placed Sergio Garcia — that if it weren't for the small print,. he could probably afford to miss Dubai too and win his second European money title.

Even if he has to take that week off to better prepare himself for the trial, O'Grady has the power to grant him a  waiiver for a "Mitigating Circumstance” (injury, serious disability or acceptable personal emergency).

Whether a March court battle could be considered an acceptable personal emergency is a matter of opinion. But it's certainly not good news.

Given how well-controlled his every move has been this year, it's hard to see how he could not have seen this coming.

It's possible, but unlikely, that the spectre of a week or more in the witness box at the Four Courts has brought the gravity of the situation home. But given the acrimonous nature of the dispute, McIlroy cannot have been too surprised that mediation failed. 

Now he has to get ready for trial and prepare his answers to some potentially tricky questions.

It would be surprising if Horizon Sports Management have not been preparing assiduosly for a likely trial for many months. It remains the only route open to them if they are to repair some of the devastating collateral damage caused to their reputation during what has been a no-holds barred tussle.

But court cases are notoriously unpredictable and given the disaster that was 2013, it's mildly surprising that McIlroy should find himself heading for court given that his 2014 season has been marked by total control in almost every department.

One by one, he has resolved every major question affecting his life, on and off the course. All bar one.

Some of those questions were tough personal decisions but all were resolved with the kid of military precision that is a publicist's dream.

  • May 21 - Announces break up with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki in a press release issued hours before his schedule press conference at the BMW PGA at Wentworth. "There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people," the statement read. "The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we've had. I will not be saying anything more about our relationship in any setting."
  • June 18 — Responding to a question in his pre-Irish Open media conference after years of agonising over his Olympic allegiance, a green-shirted McIlroy announces he's declaring for Ireland for the 2016 Games in Rio. He was applauded by some people in the media tent and said: "I didn’t think it deserved a round of applause to make a simple decision between one or the other but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t really — you think about it and you think about all the times, for me, that I’ve played for Ireland and all the great memories that I have.”
  • September 21 — Announces live on Sky Sports on the Sunday before the Ryder Cup that his charitable foundation, The Rory Foundation, will become the official Irish Open host from next year. One of the major beneficiaries of The Rory Foundation, the Cancer Fund for Children, is located just a few miles from host venue Royal County Down. McIlroy said in a statement: “It’s a coincidence, but a nice one, allowing the Cancer Fund for Children to be introduced to other golfers who would be moved and engaged by what it does.”
  • October 7 — Opens a new support centre for children with cancer in Co Down, announcing that his charitable foundation has donated £1 million to help establish it. "It is about giving back and being able to help others," he said at the opening.

Announcing he's pulling out of two high prifile European Tour events at short notice is surprising given how structured his life has become.

If it is not part of a more calculated master plan, it's a signal that uncertain times lie ahead.

Sitting in a witness box and then waiting up to a month or more for a judgement to be handed down — shortly before you head to Augusta hoping to complete the career Grand Slam — is certainly not something any career strategist would want.

When it comes to legal matters, the outcome is about as certain as a 60-foot putt.

This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr, former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, on the vagaries of the legal system