A bumpy ride on the Open road

It began in January 2013, with an Abu Dhabi laser show worthy of the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Australia that served as a backdrop for his ill-fated engagement to Caroline Wozniacki nearly one year later.

Nike Golf president Cindy Davis presented the latest swoosh festooned star to the world in what we would later discover — courtesy of a still ongoing legal battle — was a €14.7m a year deal.

The $1 billion figure was bandied about in the media was an estimate of what he could earn from the sport through endorsement contracts if he remains healthy and scandal-free for the next 40 years. But McIlroy, then world No 1 and a two-time Major champion, dismissed the vulgar question of money with gusto, which was somewhat ironic, given the legal battle that has ensued with his former agents.

“I don’t play golf for money, I’m well past that,” he said. “I am a Major champion and world No 1, which I have always dreamed of being, and I want to keep on living the dream. If I haven’t won another Major by the end of this year, I am going to be very disappointed.”

Not only did he end 2013 major-less, he also ended it as the sole client of Rory McIlroy Inc.

It was a 2013 season to forget but yesterday, 552 days into an 18-month period fraught with more drama, changes, legal battles, a broken romance, fallings out, birdies, bogeys and ultimately, brilliance, the golden boy is back on top again.

Never a man to fear making tough decisions, McIlroy knows what he wants and goes after it with the same decisiveness that he goes after a tee shot with that crimson Nike driver of his.

We learned as much when he jettisoned ISM Chubby Chandler four months after winning his first Major by eight shots because he “felt like the path I was going down wasn’t the path I wanted to go down”.

Chandler held no grudges and said: “We had four-and-a-half years of helping to nurture an unbelievable talent. And, with our without ISM, Rory will become a great player. He will go on to win 10 Majors, maybe more.”

Few would argue with that prediction today. Nor would they have argued in August 2012 when he won the US PGA and his second major by eight shots with Horizon’s Conor Ridge by his side.

A year later he was managed by his own company, Rory McIlroy Inc, and slowly emerging from a slump that saw him walk out of the Honda Classic after just 26 holes in March, citing a toothache but later admitting that off course problems had also played their part.

By May, Horizon were history in a row that is intrinsically over money and control. A judge will decide in January who was right but whatever the outcome, McIlroy is off and running under his own terms.

Still, it’s been a fraught 18-month period for the young man from Down who could still prove the greatest player of all time.

His struggles of 2013 were a combination of technical problems adjusting to his new equipment, lack of focus on his game and practice and, a relationship with Wozniacki that ended 10 weeks ago when he broke off their engagement shortly after the wedding invites were posted.

“The problem is mine,” he said in a statement. “The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails.”

Who wouldn’t have feared his recovery from his troubles of 2013 would have been prolonged? Yet 2014 began with a Top 10 finish in the US PGA at Oak Hill and sparked into life as he beat Adam Scott with a birdie at the 18th to win the Australian Open.

“It’s been a learning year,” he said at the end of the season. “It’s been a very transitional year, a lot of stuff going on, new equipment, a few things off course that haven’t really helped either. But for the most part, I’m just really happy my game is back where I want it to be.”

It’s taken time for him to find his stride this season but having broken up with Wozniacki in May, he appears to have been ticking off a to-do list. Days after the break up he won the BMW PGA at Wentworth then headed to Fota Island, where he revealed his decision to commit his Olympic future to Ireland.

At Hoylake, it was all about his golf again, just as it was in 2007 as he burst on the scene finishing third in his second pro event, at St Andrews. The picture will be complete next April if he completes a career Grand Slam at Augusta. But that’s 265 days away. A long time in the life of Rory McIlroy.

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