- Two-time major winner promises no more ‘silliness.’
- 24-year old has slipped down the world rankings following a tumultuous 2013 season.
Rory McIlroy has promised his fans for better golf as the 2014 seasons kicks into full swing this Thursday in Abu Dhabi. The two-time major winner is looking for redemption on the back of his most difficult year since turning professional.
Exactly one year ago, McIlroy was presented as a Nike athlete in an extravagant ceremony that involved signing one of the most lucrative contracts in sporting history. However, the burden of becoming a showpiece for a massive global sporting industry seemed to toil with McIlroy as he suffered from indifferent and erratic form in the first few months of the season.
The glitzy veneer of his affiliation with Nike perhaps overshadowed his preparations for the new golfing season in 2013 as he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi as well as his native Irish Open and the Open Championship. Unfortunately for the Northern Irish starlet, his golf would not improve for the vast majority of the campaign and suffered further indignation after controversially withdrawing from the Honda Classic in May, citing “wisdom tooth pain” as the reason.
Reflecting his misery on the course, McIlroy became increasingly bombarded with questions about his relationship with high-profile tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki. During 2013, rumours were rife that a break-up was potential and observers came to believe that the golfer’s increasingly unsettled private matters were affecting his form and concentration.
Indeed, McIlroy himself admitted to feeling “braindead” and “unconscious” as he hacked his way to an opening round 79 at the Open Championship in July. Finally, McIlroy’s financial matters also came to prominence following a well-documented split with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management.
However, McIlroy insists that 2014 will be a far cry from the instability of last year. Following the announcement of his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy has claimed that it will bring stability and focus back into his golf.
“If anything, it will only help to have that stability and know that everything in that regard in my life is set,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s a big step in anybody’s life to make that decision and obviously is not one that you take lightly. If you get engaged, you plan on spending the rest of your life with that person, so it’s a big decision but I feel like she is definitely the right girl for me.
“We were out on a boat in Sydney Harbour for New Year’s Eve, with fireworks, just in front of the opera house and stuff. I guess there was a little bit of romance involved. And yes, she was surprised. I mean, I had an idea that it might have been what she wanted or it was something she would say ‘yes’ to. I hoped she would say yes. It all worked out. It was a great way to end 2013 and a great way to start 2014.”
Whether or not his personal circumstances will cause any hindrance to his game will be keenly observed by the sceptics, but there are signs that he is returning to something of his best following months of uncertainty. His victory in December’s Australian Open was a massive personal triumph as it sheltered him from his first trophy-less season as a professional in addition to coming out on top against one of 2013’s form players in Adam Scott. Pipping the Masters champion in front of his home crowd will have boosted McIlroy’s confidence immensely and can build from it to end up where he belongs in 2014; challenging for majors and winning tournaments.
The key to a successful year for McIlroy is stability and consistency, which emanate from keen preparation and a positive mindset. The world no.7 has stated that he feels “much better prepared” for this year than he did at the same point in 2013.
“My swing is in a much better place. I’ve done some really good work on that at the end of last year and in the couple of weeks I’ve had here leading into this tournament” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “I’m in a really good frame of mind and I feel like I’ve built a lot of momentum at the back end of last year and I’m going to try to continue that into this season” he said.
McIlroy will tee it up for the first two days in the desert with current Open champion, Phil Mickelson, who tips McIlroy for a big year in 2014. “He’s too talented to have another year like last year,” the 43-year old legend said. However, when asked about the intrusion into McIlroy’s private life towards the end of last year, Mickelson replied that the best thing for the Northern Irishman would be to stay away from social media.
“Me personally, I’ve really tried to stay away from social media as I need to get away and have some time just with my family. There are some things I don’t like letting out, I just like keeping private. It’s been great for me to be able to come out on Tour, play competitive golf and accept we’re in the public eye there but also to have an opportunity to get away and have down time,” Mickelson said.
“I’d a great off-season the last two months with Amy and the kids. We went skiing, hung out and had some great vacations. I need to do that to get rejuvenated and excited.
“I think for me, staying out of social media has been a real benefit but I also understand how powerful it is and what a great thing it can be for players.”
Following Mickelson’s model of holding his private cards close to his chest may be beneficial for McIlroy, but he needs only to improve his golf and maintain a positive image on the course for the niggling personal questions and prickly press conferences to fade into obscurity.