Rory McIlroy could use a break from the off-course diversions that have plagued the former world No. 1 during a bleak, winless 2013 season. A victory at this week’s World Tour Championship -- which would be his first since he won the event in 2012 -- would certainly go a long way toward getting the Ulsterman’s head out of his legal woes and back in the game.
"It's just extra stuff in your head," McIlroy, referring to two high-stakes court cases involving a former management company and sponsor, told BBC Sport on Tuesday, ahead of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai finale.
"It's something that I don't think a professional athlete or any person should really have to go through," said McIlroy, who noted he hoped never to set foot in a lawyer’s office again. "You are taking time away from what you should be doing which is thinking about your game and focusing on your game."
A great deal has happened in McIlroy’s world since he lifted his last trophy, and, unfortunately for the two-time major champion, much of it has happened outside the ropes. His hellish season began with an equipment change that triggered constant criticism, which only grew as he struggled to compete from week to week.
Speculation about his personal life compounded the off-course scrutiny of McIlroy, who has fallen from the top of the world golf rankings to No. 6. But it’s the ongoing litigation with Horizon Sports Management and Oakley that the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland acknowledged was getting him down.
''As a golfer, you want your mind as clear as possible, and it's hard for that to happen when you've got other things that are going on that, firstly, you don't want to happen, and secondly, you don't feel should be happening," McIlroy told reporters, according to multiple accounts. "It has been a distraction.''
McIlroy noted that he was not placing total blame for his lost 2013 campaign on the lawsuits, but they haven’t helped.
"I'm not saying it's been a huge detriment to my game but it's just something that's filled my head when it shouldn't really be there," he said. "I'm not making excuses because my game has not been good enough this year and I completely accept that and I take responsibility for that. But it would be nice next year when things hopefully are a bit calmer, if I can look forward to just playing golf."
McIlroy, whose most recent golf outing resulted in a sixth-place finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, said he hoped to heed counsel he received from Tiger Woods about dealing with situations unrelated to golf.
''Sometimes you have to say 'no' and sometimes you have to put yourself first and say 'no,' and I need to do this for myself to maintain the level in my game,'' McIlroy told reporters. ''It's something Tiger actually said to me last year. He said you have to remember what got you here in the first place, and you know Tiger, it's 'no' 99 percent of the time for him.''
Legal issues may continue for McIlroy for some time, with Horizon’s counter-suit to his and Oakley suing him for breach of contract by signing with Nike. Still, the golfer said he hoped to leave the lawyering to the experts and focus on rising above what James Corrigan said he described as a "disastrous year" and returning to the winner’s circle.
"It’s been an interesting year," McIlroy said. "A lot has gone on off and on the course, but the big thing for me now, the most important thing for me now, is that my game is in really good shape again.
"If that starts to work the way I know it can and that most people know it can, then everything else will fall into place. It would be a great way to cap off the season with a win."