Rory McIlroy refused to pin his woeful 2013 season on his well-publicized equipment change, claiming instead that he has gone winless because his swing and mind were out of sorts.
The two-time major champion, who weathered criticism about switching from Titleist clubs even before Nike introduced its new cash cow in a splashy ceremony in Abu Dhabi in January, also declined, in a press conference ahead of this week’s Korea Open, to comment on his reported split from tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.
"My private life is private and I would like to keep it that way," McIlroy, who made his relationship quite public by posting photos of Wozniacki and himself on Twitter and frequently tweeting about their jet-setting between each other’s events, told reporters Tuesday from South Korea.
McIlroy in 2013 was a shadow of the golfer he was in the year prior, when he won dual money titles on the PGA and European Tours, earned player/golfer of the year honors on both circuits, and ascended to the top spot in the world rankings. Coincidentally or not, his slump began immediately after signing on with Nike for a reported 10-year deal worth up to $250 million.
The sticks, however, were not the problem, the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland, who called himself "brain dead" during the British Open, averred.
"I think it was a little bit of both," he said about whether his game took a nosedive due to psychological issues or glitches in his swing. "It was more to do with mechanics of the golf swing and getting into a couple of bad habits ... If you don’t play the way you want to your confidence gets knocked and obviously that affects you mentally.
"Yeah, definitely nothing to do with the equipment," McIlroy added. "It’s tough. Coming off the back of such a good year , it was always going to be tough to emulate that but that’s what I wanted to do and I didn’t do that."
In addition to having to frequent bashing over the gear shift from vocal critics like Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller, McIlroy has had other off-course distractions that included a parting of the ways with his management firm that has blossomed into a contentious legal battle that could serve as a year-long distraction, as well as what appears to be a schism between him and countryman Graeme McDowell over the Horizon Sports Management breakup.
McIlroy also conceded that he erred in scheduling too few competitive tournaments in 2013 but that he had time, with three events in Asia, plus an exhibition with Tiger Woods in China and Woods’ limited-field event in California yet to play this season, to turn around his lackluster campaign.
"I learned a lot this year," said McIlroy, who acknowledged he was "under-golfed" for the first three or four months of the season.
"This year is a little bit of a disappointment," he said, "but I’ve still got six tournaments left this year to finish the season strongly and get some momentum for 2013."
As for the purported breakup of sports’ power duo, while McIlroy would not address an Independent account that Wozniacki was "absolutely devastated" by the alleged rift, the formerly top-ranked hard-court star opened up about it to Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
"There is nothing in it, and from now on I just think that I will keep my private life private," Wozniacki, also a frequent social media contributor whose Twitter photo is a cutesy photo of the cuddly "Wozzilroy" couple, said, according to multiple reports. "It is so annoying that the media and the so-called sources constantly spread the rumors. They write just what they want."
Wozniacki, who, along with McIlroy, has dropped from No. 1 in the world (to No. 9 and No. 6, respectively), pronounced, "All is well" with the twosome.
"I just want to be allowed to live my life off the court without all the speculation," she said.