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Rory McIlroy to tee off in £13m court battle

The golf star, who claims Horizon levied an exhorbitant and excessive amount in fees from him, is expected to begin giving evidence in the dispute on Tuesday, February 10 – a week after the case opens – and the prospect of staring down into a packed court room from a witness box, rather than a golf tee at an immaculately manicured course, has understandably been praying on his mind.

Speaking at the Desert Classic in Dubai earlier this week – his last event before the US Masters at the end of February – he confessed he had found the prospect of appearing in court upsetting.

“It’s not something that I would want anyone to go through,” he said. “It’s a very tedious and nasty process at times. Hopefully it won’t take that long, it will be over and done with and we can all move on with our lives.

“It is not a nice process, it is a shame that it has gone this far but it’s hard when two sides sort of see things completely differently. It is what it is, the only way to sort it out is to get a judge in to sort of tell us what to do.”

Rory McIlroy (L) of Northern Ireland and guest Conor Ridge at the White House in 2012 (AFP/Getty)

Placed before the judge will be the intricacies of an arrangement between McIlroy and Horizon that had its origins at an office Christmas party held in Dublin, in December 2011.

It was at this party that McIlroy claims he was ‘pushed’ into signing a deal with the agent, which had been representing his friend Graeme McDowell since 2007. The two men, once very close, were said to have since fallen out over the matter – although the pair appeared to show genuine affection for each other during the Ryder Cup, at Gleneagles, last September.

Over time McIlroy became convinced the deal was “unconscionable” and detrimental to his interests, and had cost him $ 6.8 million (£4.5m) in exhorbitant fees to Horizon. He also claims that the firm made a £166,000 donation on his behalf to UNICEF, with neither his knowledge nor approval.

In a statement submitted to the court McIlroy maintains he was not given any draft of the agreement before it was presented to him for signature on December 21 2011, in a solicitor’s office on the day of Horizon’s Christmas party, ‘in circumstances of great informality’.

In his statement of claim, he says that Horizon’s founder, Conor Ridge, acted primarily in the interests of his company as opposed to, and to the detriment of McIlroy’s interests.

Among the other claims are that a first class flight to Abu Dhabi McIlroy paid for in his name was changed for a member of Horizon staff and that Mr Ridge did not tell him about a dispute with his head of strategy Donal Casey over the Nike contract.

For their part Horizon claim their involvement only served to enhance both McIlroy’s career and his financial security and that in fact he owes them $ 2.4 million in unpaid fees. The firm points out that not only did it negotiate the lucrative Nike deal, but that it has brokered other endorsements for him worth a cool $ 130m over the next five years.

As a result the firm is countersuing McIlroy for $ 20m (£13m).

Horizon claims that it has discovered that between 2011 and 2014 McIlroy wiped clean as many as eight different cell phones which might have contained information relevant to the case. This was, in the words of the firm’s lawyers “incredible for a person in his position” to do.

McIlroy says he periodically changes and resets his phones in order to keep a distance between himself and journalists and fans who obtain his number.

As recently as May last year all appeared well between McIlroy and Horizon. The golfer told the New York Times: “I think it’s a good thing for me that I’m with a smaller company. They are always looking out what’s best for me.”

But that statement was purely for public consumption. Behind the scenes the rupture between the two was on the verge of taking place.

When news emerged that McIlroy and Horizon had gone their separate ways the golfer’s camp suggested merely that he wanted his father Gerry McIlroy, who had introduced him to the game, to take a more prominent roles in running his affairs.

Family legend has it that he could hit a 40-yard drive at County Down’s Holywood Golf Club at the age of two and that when he received a new golf club as a present he took it to bed with him, his hands still in the correct position shown to him by his father.

Little wonder he still wanted Mr McIlroy Snr closely involved in his career.

It was only when McIlroy filed a legal suit against Horizon in October that the reasons behind the split became clear, along with evidence of the high stakes game both parties were engaged in.

During the Dubai classic McIlroy insisted he was still able to focus on his golf, stating: “I have a great team around me now who filter a lot of it for me. They are taking a lot of the burden away from me so I only have to look at the bare minimum and that allows me to concentrate on golf.”

But he also admitted that he had some “homework” to do in preparing for the case. The next few days will tell whether ‘Wee Mac’ – as he is still known in his native Holywood – is as much a master of his brief as master of the fairways.

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