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Rory McIlroy determined to play through the pain after ending a very public love affair

From cold feet to hot under the collar.

Rory McIlroy talks things over with his father, Gerry, ahead of a return to a course on which the Northern Irishman has often struggled. Picture: Getty Sport
Rory McIlroy talks things over with his father, Gerry, ahead of a return to a course on which the Northern Irishman has often struggled. Picture: Getty Sport

Rory McIlroy certainly doesn't do things the easy way. Not so long ago, the Northern Irishman suggested that "my private life is private and I would like to keep it that way".

Good luck on that front. In these times of remorseless tittle-tattle and unrelenting exposure, when vast sections of a salivating society seem more interested in a picture of some celebrity figure nibbling on a satsuma than they are in the general well-being of their own family, McIlroy's high-profile existence is akin to living in a petri dish that is anchored under the unflinching gaze of an industrial-sized microscope.

In this fevered environment, calling off his wedding to Caroline Wozniacki when the invitations were already being shoved through various letter boxes was perhaps not the wisest of moves given the seemingly unquenchable drooth the modern media has for absorbing every cough, wheeze and snort of public figures. McIlroy's announcement of this parting of the ways suddenly had seasoned scribblers assuming the role of Relate counsellors, a remarkable development given that a fair few of them have probably had more dodgy unions than Henry VIII.

An ashen-faced McIlroy shuffled into his pre-tournament press conference ahead of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth yesterday looking like a young man who had, well, just split up with his fiancée. From down on one knee to down in the dumps.

"Look, I think I'm no different than anyone else; everybody has been through break-ups and it's very, very difficult," he sighed to a ghoulishly jam-packed media centre while shameless bookmakers began giving odds on his next celebrity girlfriend as quickly as you could get back up off a bended knee. "But I'm here to try and concentrate on this week and answer questions about golf and that's what I'm going to do."

Yes, the golf, the game that McIlroy plays for a multi-million dollar living. Many, himself included, were confident that 2014 would be the year when his clubs did the talking again following a tumultuous 2013 which had turned into a 12-month rolling news story of well-documented toil and trouble.

There was the torrid change of equipment, the split from the management company which is still being dragged through the courts and a high-profile relationship with Wozniacki that seems to have been on and off more times than a light switch at the finger of a hyperactive imbecile.

His love-life drew comment and analysis from all quarters. It seemed everybody had something to say; McIlroy should be doing this, he should be doing that and he certainly shouldn't be doing the other. "He's got to be intelligent and find the right wife," suggested Gary Player at last year's Open, as the veteran South African pontificated on the virtues of marital bliss. It's not easy being Rory.

The turmoil of the past year had been tempered during an encouraging start to 2014, though. There is certainly not much wrong with his game and seven top-10 finishes from eight strokeplay events suggested that it was only a matter of time before the two-time major champion barged his way back into the winner's circle. This is player who, at full throttle, can blow away the world's best - his major wins have both been by eight shots - but he struggles to achieve success when he is not in top gear and he has still not developed that ability, like Tiger Woods had, of grinding and winkling out victories.

With off-course issues now, once again, overshadowing his on-course affairs, the chances of him making great inroads here at Wentworth appear slim. "I'm not going to lie, it's going to be very difficult but at least when I get inside the ropes I can just try and concentrate on the shot," he said.

This week's championship would have been a big enough challenge for McIlroy without the added baggage of a public break-up. Wentworth has never been one of his happiest hunting grounds, after all. He was fifth in the BMW PGA Championship of 2009 but, since the significant changes to the West course were made the following year, his record is far from dazzling. He was tied 48th in 2010, tied 25th in 2011 and has missed the halfway cut in the past two stagings of the European Tour's flagship event.

"I've enjoyed my times here," he added somewhat unconvincingly. "I think it's a beautiful golf course. But I have struggled here since they made the changes. I'm trying to go in this week with the mind-set of not getting frustrated. That's not easy, though. I might only get to hit driver two or three times. I feel like my length advantage is taken away from me."

The wedding may be off but the golfing show goes on this week. How long a torn McIlroy will be part of it remains to be seen.

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