Four play
The Four Courts

The Four Courts

The last time we saw Rory McIlroy and Conor Ridge, suited and booted as they glided over polished floors was in that much-used agency picture of them arriving at the White House for a State Dinner in honour of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

That was in happier times. Almost three years later the pair were within a few feet of each other in the majestic Four Courts building in Dublin for the opening day of a High Court trail that’s scheduled to run for up to eight weeks but now appears certain to end up being settled quickly and lucratively in favour of the least talented golfer of the two.

Like many big money cases that come before the Commercial Division of the High Court, veteran observers of business in the building they facetiously dub the Four Gold Mines, fully expected the case to be resolved out of court. It appears they were right.

Given that McIlroy’s top barrister, Paul Gallagher SC (a former Attorney General of Ireland) spoke for less than a couple of minutes (all told) on the three occasions he got to his feet in Dublin on a frosty Tuesday morning to ask Mr Justice Brian Cregan for time for both sides to “narrow down” their differences, it may be safe to assume that McIlroy (the plaintiff in the case) has judiciously opted to lay up on this particularly treacherous par-five.

While the case is listed for six to eight weeks,  Mr Gallagher’s opening intervention — which came after the spine-tingling tension of a three-minute wait in respectful and sepulchral silence for the arrival of the judge — made it plain that there’s little McIlroy can gain from a protracted and public verbal war in court that can’t be solved by writing a cheque. How big? That's the million dollar question.  Or the 10 million euro question. Or possibly more accurately — the $30 million question. 

As has been the case with this affair since the beginning, there has been a constant flow of “information” floating around not the figures involved. McIlroy’s side has let it be known that he’s offered Ridge €10m while it’s been suggested from several sources that the Horizon camp are seeking between three and nine times that amount, depending on whom you happen to meet. What is in doubt is that both sides have spent around €5m on legal fees, each.

Little wonder then then that having granted Mr Gallagher’s request for deferment of the start of proceedings until 2pm, and successively until 4pm yesterday and finally until 11 am on Wednesday, that what looked like a swift settlement is going to take just a little longer that first appeared likely.

The body language of the two participants was certainly fascinating to watch. A bespectacled McIlroy, bursting out of navy suit and checked shirt, almost swaggered into court flanked by his entourage — Rory McIlroy Inc CEO Donal Casey and "Tour Manager" Sean O’Flaherty sat at his right hand, Rory Foundation head Barry Funston and his uncle Brian on the other — as Conor Ridge sat near the back of the court looking tense.

McIlroy entered court around 10 minutes before kick off and greeted some of the British golf writers he knew among near 40 strong strong press contingent with a cheery “Hello boys” and then chatted amiably with his sidekicks, none of whom looked particularly comfortable in their surroundings.

One of them fiddled with a large mobile device, frequently refreshing what looked like a Twitter feed, before a court official called for all mobiles to be switched off. Within a minute we were all trooping out again  — the press to local hostelries, the protagonists to some quiet corner of the building to thrash out their differences.

Ridge did not reappear at 2pm, when McIlroy again waltzed in with his entourage... and swiftly exited again.

“Another rain delay,” quipped his personal assistant to some of the assembled golf hacks who had displaced the regular court reporting crew to the jury box on the far side Court No 1, a magnificent, high-ceiled room, its 200 year old oak benches set off walls painted a soothing, pale lemon.

Before the court resembled for the 4pm resumption, news filtered through that a settlement was imminent and that a statement would be issued by McIlroy on the court steps. It turned out to be a false alarm though those fluent in body language noticed the marked contrast in the demeanour of the Horizon principal even when play was suspended until Wednesday. 

A settlement would, of course, be great news for McIlroy’s Masters preparations, which he hopes to begin in his adopted home town of Palm Beach Gardens at the Honda Classic in a fortnight's time.

Should it go ahead without a hitch, It will be a sad day for news hungry reporters everywhere. After all, the discovery hearings merely scratched the surface of what has been a revealing look into the real lives of golfers and those who live to serve them.

The bigger picture is that a case that is almost exclusively about money will end soon and those involved can go their separate ways. Barring accidents, McIlroy appears destined to make many, many millions which will make any settlement pale into insignificance. 

Of course, there's always a small chance all bets will be off today and what has been a sad example of everything that can go wrong when talent, ego and untold wealth meets unbridled ambition.