The disappearing act of Rory McIlroy

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He didn’t win a tournament until his 24th start, two weeks ago at the Australian Open. He ends the year at No. 6 in the world, miles away from Woods at the top.

“It’s been the first year I’ve had to put up with scrutiny and criticism,” McIlroy said. “You just have to believe in what you’re doing and not let it get to you too much. I let it get to me a few times.”

The toothache was one example of that. McIlroy conceded a week later at Doral that all the hype translated into more pressure he put on himself to perform, and he snapped. An honest answer. He said he would never do it again. So far, so good.

More than the golf was the inspection outside the ropes.

“All the other stuff,” he said. “I don’t care what people say about my golf. It’s when people start digging into my personal life, that’s where it starts to annoy you. Whether it’s Caroline, the management, all that should that should be no consequence to how I play my golf.”

That’s a part of celebrity he still hasn’t mastered.

When you’re 24 and already have two majors (setting records in each), when you’re dating a former No. 1 tennis player, when you’re looked upon as the next great player in golf, there will be prying. He has to learn how to protect what he wants to keep private and ignore the rest.

As for the golf, McIlroy can only hope this year was an aberration.

Woods went through his first “slump” _ everything is relative when it comes to Woods _ at age 22 in his second full year as a pro. He won only two tournaments. He lost to Nick Price in a playoff at Sun City. He lost to Mark O’Meara in a 36-hole final at the World Match Play Championship. About the only off-course issue he faced was the GQ article that quoted him telling racial jokes.

“As far as battling a slump, that’s just part of playing golf,” Woods said. “You play golf long enough, you’re going to go through it.”

The great ones emerge. And the great ones don’t stay in slumps for long.

McIlroy headed to his Florida home to start his vacation. He’ll eventually wind up in Melbourne to watch Wozniacki in the Australian Open, and then go to Dubai to start preparing for a new season that will begin in Abu Dhabi.

Even at age 24, this is shaping up as important season.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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