When it comes to golf, Rory McIlroy is clearly in total control. When it comes to matters that take place off the course, not so much. That’s the legal business for you.
The sensationally talented four-time major winner and world No 1, will remain at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for the rest of 2014 at the very least, meaning he will overtake Seve Ballesteros and celebrate being No 1 for more weeks than any other player in the game after Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, respectively.
As Woods likes to say — and McIlroy said four times in a press conference ahead of the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai — “It is what it is.”
It’s wonderful for golf (and Ireland) that McIlroy has become a four-time major winner by the age of 25 but his phenomenal success has come at some cost to his private life and his business affairs are now — albeit briefly — tethered to his on-going legal action against his former management company, Horizon Sports Management.
With the Race to Dubai title already his for the second time in three years, the focus now turns not just to his bid to end the season with wins in Dubai and the Australian Open but also to his quest for the final leg of the career Grand Slam at the Masters Tournament next year.
He will undoubtedly excel in Dubai this week, where he has finished third, fifth, 11th, first and fifth since the event was first played in 2009.
How he will fare at Augusta should his legal action against Horizon, scheduled for the Irish courts in early February, go against him, is anyone’s guess.
Indeed, even if he wins the case, it remains to be seen how the mentally exacting legal process will affect his build up to the Masters.
McIlroy insisted yesterday that the case would not affect his planned pre-Masters schedule and he’s clearly hoping that the matter will have been resolved one way or the other by April.
“I mean, yeah, of course I'm annoyed that it's still going on,” he said of a case in which he is the plaintiff. “But again, it is what it is. I've been saying that a lot recently; it is what it is. I can't do anything about it. We tried our best a few weeks ago to come to some sort of resolution and it didn't work.
“So, yeah, it's not the best thing to be going through, but at the end of the day, it will be over and done with a good bit before I have to go down Magnolia Lane in April and that's fine by me, as long as I've got a clear head going there, I'm happy with that.”
The forensic and fraught discovery process in the case has been anything but head-clearing for McIlroy, who said less than a month ago he was skipping the two Final Series events in China to prepare for the legal case.
Given the deadlines he and his collaborators have had to meet in terms of producing documents for the other side — that battle is ongoing — it’s little wonder he was not immediately crystal clear on the details of when he has sat down with his lawyers to go through the issues.
On November 5, the day before the start of the WGC - HSBC CHAMPIONS in Shanghai — the second event of the Final Series — he was buying a Halloween pumpkin near his Palm Beach home.
On November 7, he “Instagrammed” a picture of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and followed up a couple of days later with a UAE driving range shot of his clubs with the text: “Back to the day job #feelsgood"
“I had to get a few things done,” he said of recent progress in preparations of his legal action and the counterclaim by Horizon. “I'm actually not sure if I'm bound confidentiality wise to talk about it. I just had to get a few things tied up and it had to be done by a certain deadline.
“So there was a lot of time that I needed to put into do what I had to do, basically. And it sort of went, sort of until … it probably went up until the Tuesday of HSBC or something like that. So I mean, I could have went [sic] there but I would have been totally ill-prepared to play, so there was no reason to go to an event without having your best stuff there."
Quite apart from being “annoyed” by the seemingly inevitable journey towards the Four Courts in early February, McIlroy said he was not worried that dirty laundry (his or that of others) could be aired in public.
“Yeah, that's something that's just a part of it,” he said. “It's not like I'm worried in any way, because I definitely don't feel like I've done anything wrong. But yeah, that is, it's not ideal, of course. But that's the nature of it and yeah, it is what it is.” (Laughter).
McIlroy might not be concerned about what emerges in the public domain but that’s not to say that others may not also be drawn into the public arena against their wishes.
The forensic scrutiny of laptops, mobile phones, text messages, emails and other documents in a case such as this could unleash an uncontrollable beast.
As it is, Horizon has asked McIlroy himself, his father Gerry, Rory Mcilroy Inc CEO Donal Casey, and McIlroy’s personal assistant/tour manager Sean O’Flaherty to produce documentation in the discovery process and much of what they have requested has not be turned over in full.
The process is designed to show that commercial platform Horizon built for Rory McIlroy was effectively commandeered by what is now Rory McIlroy Inc together with a large proportion of his management team.
Horizon’s lawyers will be trying to show through this discovery process that the takeover was planned over a lengthy period of time with many individuals directly and indirectly emerging as key movers.
Lawyers for Horizon appear to have had trouble securing all the documents they require and have brought a motion to the High Court to have their requests met in full.
Last Monday it emerged that Justice McGovern has set aside time on November 27 and 28 to hear Horizon’s motions seeking deeper discovery.
In summary, every move made could be open to public scrutiny, exposing third parties outside the two warring factions to potentially uncomfortable revelations in court.
As for the amount of cash that’s at stake, Horizon is due to deliver its detailed claim for fees they claim are owed, not to mention damages.
Whatever happens, it would be a shame if the case impinges on McIlroy’s play and his Masters bid.
For now, he’s basking in the glory of a remarkable season and clearly proud that he didn’t have to play in China or Turkey to sew up the Vardon Trophy.
“Obviously I had that fantastic stretch over the summer, which made up the bulk of the season for me, and how many points that I accumulated in The Race to Dubai,” McIlroy said.
“But yeah, very happy. But at the same time, it would be nice to pick up two trophies on Sunday and not just one. Still very motivated to go out there this week and perform well.”
As for the lack of drama, he’s also happy that the contrived Final Series points race has not denied him the No 1 spot.
“I'm happy to spoil the party (smiling). It works just fine for me,” he said. “Look, it is what it is. If a guy has a really good season you know, whenever one of the three guys last week didn't win, I'm reading things like: 'Rory, he's just won The Race to Dubai sitting on the couch this weekend.' You've got to remember the first ten months of the season where I actually did play and I played very well.
“So I think if I look at the PGA Tour season, I didn't win anything I was at the top of the money list there, and this is a money list. It's not like they reshuffle the points at the start of The Final Series or anything.
'They might give slightly higher points to the guys wherever they finish in these final four events, but it basically is the money list title and I've done enough throughout the middle part of the season to not be able to be caught with one event to spare.
“So whether they look at it again, that's completely up to The European Tour. I have no real either way works for me, whether they want to go more FedExCup style or whether they want to keep it like this. As long as I am hopefully in the mix at the end of every season, I'll be happy enough.”
McIlroy wasn’t in a lawyer’s office when he was crowned No 1 on Sunday as Sergio Garcia and Marcel Siem, his nearest rivals, failed to win in Turkey.
“I was probably on the range,” he said.
Where he will be physically and mentally at the end of February, March or April next year is unknown.
McIlroy's big sporting concern is where he will be come the end of the major season next year.
“You know, high expectations obviously going into Augusta, wanting to try to complete the career Grand Slam," he said. "There's a lot to play for but if I'm sitting down here this time next year and having not won a major for example, I'd be disappointed, yeah.”