Those of the Piers Morgan persuasion, who see elite sport as the ultimate expression of the life of Riley, will have little sympathy with the commentary of Rory McIlroy, who presented himself for scrutiny in the first round of the Australian Open in Sydney overnight, and is dismayed by the events surrounding England cricketer Jonathan Trott.
Morgan tweeted his empathy with the England batsmen quoting the legendary Australian all-rounder of yore, Keith Miller: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.” In other words Trotty, get a grip, man up, grow a pair, or whatever the expression is in Morgan’s macho wonderland.
This is not a view shared by McIlroy, who has spent the past 11 months in a similar personal space to Trott, desperately trying to balance expectation and disappointment. Where Trott has gone, more might follow warns McIlroy. “The pressure to succeed in sport is pushing more and more athletes towards stress-related illnesses,” he said.
“As sport becomes so big and there’s so much pressure and so much on the line, it’s becoming more and more common that these sorts of illnesses are happening and it just shows how much of a mental toll it takes on you sometimes. It’s sad to see something like that happen. Hopefully he gets home and spends some time with his family and recovers and can come back.”
McIlroy is hoping to sign off a year of frustration and rancour with victory in Australia or at next week’s Tiger Woods World Challenge in California. At least then the conversation might not be about his form following the lucrative switch to Nike clubs, his legal confrontation with former management company Horizon, the status of his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki or the health of his wisdom tooth.
“It’s been a long year, I guess mentally more than physically,” he said. “Physically, golf doesn’t take that much out of you but mentally it’s quite draining, especially this year for me, not just the golf and being frustrated with my game but having to answer the questions and having to come up with reasons why I’m not playing well and all that stuff.
“I’ve said for the last couple of months I just wanted to try and finish this season strongly and get some momentum to go in 2014. This would be the perfect place to get that first win of the year and give me a sort of springboard into the next season.”
To prevail this week McIlroy must get past local favourites Adam Scott and Jason Day, Both have been on the Australian clock for a couple of weeks as they take advantage of the gaps in the calendar to contest tournaments on home soil.
Scott won the Australian Masters a fortnight ago in Melbourne and cleaned up on the same course last week partnering Jason Day to the team title in the World Cup of Golf. Day won the individual event. “I know I’m going to have to play my best golf to beat them,” McIlroy said.