x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

McIlroy still searching for answers to a lost golf season

On the cusp of a record slide, Rory McIlroy is dealing with some issues off the course, writes Steve Elling.

After a month-long hiatus, Rory McIlroy, right, will be looking for his first win at the Korea Open. Jung Yeon-Je / AFP
After a month-long hiatus, Rory McIlroy, right, will be looking for his first win at the Korea Open. Jung Yeon-Je / AFP

Wait, maybe it can get worse after all.

For former world No 1 Rory McIlroy, whose 2013 has been an unfulfilling disaster since it began 10 months ago, in Abu Dhabi, the bandages have been pulled back so often that the wounds have never properly healed.

The truly squeamish might want to avert their eyes this week as McIlroy ends a one-month layoff and plays in the third-tier Korea Open outside Seoul.

With the tournament sponsor reportedly paying McIlroy a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) bonus, which equals the entire purse, officials have positioned their show pony for maximum box-office impact.

He will play the first two rounds alongside the rising amateur Lee Chang-woo, 19.

One could argue that Woo is having the better year, having already won the Korean Amateur Final as well as a professional event on the Korean Tour.

McIlroy, conversely, is on the cusp of a record fall – which will be only heightened if Lee beats him.

After starting the year with flash and panache at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he was theatrically introduced as Nike’s new $200m man with a finger of the Arabian Gulf as a backdrop, he has foundered.

The personable Northern Irishman, 24, began the year at a seemingly unassailable No 1 in the rankings, but has skidded to sixth.

If that ranking holds through the end of the year, it would represent the biggest drop in history from the first to the last ranking in a season for a healthy player who began the year in the top spot.

Greg Norman dropped from first to 18th over the 12 months of 1998, but played only three times because of shoulder surgery. The world ranking dates to 1986.

This week, McIlroy has been all over the UK papers with regard to a multi-million euro lawsuit filed against his former management firm, which he retained for less than two years.

McIlroy claims their percentage of the take was too high, and that he was tricked into signing the contract at a Christmas party in 2011 and wants out. Yes, he is invoking the Santa clause.

Other reports suggest he has split from his girlfriend of two years, the former world No 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, an issue he declined to discuss in Seoul. As for golf, after a month off, McIlroy over the next five weeks will play an exhibition match against Tiger Woods in China, then take part in the run-up to the 60-player DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next month, where he is the defending champion.

At the minute (a phrase McIlroy uses constantly), he ranks 60th in points. Which is a brink of another sort.

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