Nike said it wanted the best, and the then 23-year-old, the youngest ever two-time major winner and at the time the world’s top player, fitted the bill.
Ten months on, 24-year-old McIlroy has dropped to sixth in the world rankings, hasn’t won a tournament in a year and has had only one top 10 finish in his last 10 outings. Today it was revealed that he is suing the management company that helped bring him the most lucrative endorsement deal in British sporting history.
In golfing terms, McIlroy is in deep rough, and to make matters worse, the glamorous Danish tennis star who used to cheer him from the gallery is currently in tears after learning that she, too, is part of McIlroy’s year-zero exercise to refocus on his game.
It has emerged that Caroline Wozniacki, 23, a former world number one in her own sport, and McIlroy, are no longer an item. An unflattering picture posted on Twitter showing McIlroy fast asleep is alleged to have played a part in the break-up.
Now court papers lodged in Dublin state that the County Down golfer also wants to end the contract he began with Horizon Sports Management, and two other companies at the end of 2011.
There is nothing amicable about the break with Horizon. Despite having a reputation as someone brought up to understand the commercial side of elite sport, the Irish legal papers allege that McIlroy had no knowledge of any draft agreement between himself and Horizon, and that when presented with papers to sign in a solicitor’s office, the management firm’s Christmas party was already in full swing.
The papers describe the festive spirit that surrounded the delivery of McIlroy’s signature on 21 December 2011 as “circumstances of great informality”.
Lodged at Dublin’s Commercial Court, the claim alleges that McIroy was exploited and misled, and states that Horizon and its lead agent, Conor Ridge, were “primarily concerned with maximising [their] own share of any commission”.
The legal battle is thought to focus on around £6m that McIlroy paid to Horizon in commission on his earnings from commercial sponsors that include Omega watches, Nike and Santander, a sum which he believes is excessive. McIlroy has now set up his own company – Rory McIlroy Incorporated – and says that his deal with Horizon is now over.
Barristers representing Horizon and the two other companies, Gurteen and Canovan Management, say McIlroy will be hit with a series of counter-claims. The case will now be heard in Dublin’s High Court in October next year.
In a statement, Horizon said: “Horizon Sports Management notes with disappointment Rory McIlroy’s decision to initiate legal action seeking to terminate his representation contract. Since October 2011, under Horizon’s management, Rory McIlroy has signed some of the most lucrative endorsement contracts in sports history, in addition to achieving significant success on the golf course.”
The company added: “The claim will be defended vigorously and comprehensively.”
In the meantime, the Nike deal, worth £156m over 10 years, remains on track to deliver the Irish golfer around £31,000 a day. This will be supplemented this week by around £1m in appearance fees when he tees up for a tournament in Seoul, South Korea. Then it’s on to China for two tournaments, plus an exhibition round with Tiger Woods.
Although McIlroy’s star may have faded slightly, he is still an in-demand star. Earlier this month, in between hanging out with Wayne Rooney and Bono, he managed a round with Bill Clinton in Dublin.
But as the former US president was tweeting about their happy round, Ms Wozniacki was said to have been fixated on times past, telling friends how hard it will be for her to move on.