In Depth

McIlroy set for 'tawdry and damaging' Horizon court case

The Northern Irishman was in sublime form in Dubai, but no-one is talking about his golf this week

Rory McIlroy posted a record-equalling score of 22 under to win the Dubai Desert Classic last week, but it will be his performance in the witness box rather than on the golf course that will dominate the headlines this week.

The world number one is due in court in Dublin as his long standing legal fight with former agents Horizon Sports Management finally makes it to the big business division of the Irish High Court in Dublin.

The case revolves around the termination of McIlroy's contract with Horizon and its founder Conor Ridge in 2011. Both sides are suing each other. McIlroy believes his contract with Horizon was unfair, and Horizon are claiming McIlroy owes them fees.

So far attempts at mediation have failed, even though out-of-court deals are "common in cases such as these", according to Ewan Murray of The Guardian. "McIlroy's party is understood to have regarded as wildly excessive a figure quoted as being necessary to avert the full case being heard," adds the paper.

But he is likely to end up out of pocket whatever happens. "The fact the 25-year-old had a contract with Horizon, which negotiated his $100m equipment contract with Nike, due to run until 2017 means it is inevitable he will pay out a significant sum. Quite how much, and on what terms, are the issues. Reputation as well as cash is at stake."

But the reputation of golf is taking a hammering, bemoans Derek Lawrenson in the Daily Mail. He claims that McIroy offered Ridge almost £8m to settle, but says Ridge "appears determined to have his day, or rather his several weeks, in court".

And it will not be an edifying sight. "It promises to be toe-curlingly tawdry at times and wholly damaging to a sport that relies so much on the goodwill of big business to keep the show on the road. What will the CEOs be thinking as the two sides tear lumps out of one another and the financial affairs of the sport's most marketable commodity are laid bare?"

McIlroy could face up to six days of questioning, says James Corrigan of the Daily Telegraph, who notes it will interrupt his preparation for the Augusta Masters in early April.

"This entire scenario is obviously far from ideal for McIlroy or, indeed, for a sport relying on its young poster boy," he adds.

Rory McIlroy lawsuit: golfer takes break for McDowell case

21 October

Golfer Rory McIlroy's legal dispute with his former management company Horizon has intensified, and the world number one has announced that he will take time away from the sport to prepare for a court case, expected to involve fellow golfer Graeme McDowell, next year.

The 25-year-old has pulled out of the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren in Shanghai next week and the WGC HSBC Champions at Sheshan early next month.

He made the decision after court-ordered mediation talks with Horizon Sports Management floundered over the weekend.

The move has "stunned golf", says the Daily Telegraph and "casts a late shadow over what has proved an epic year on the course for McIlroy", according to The Guardian.

What is the court case about?

McIlroy joined Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management in late 2011 after splitting from former agent Andrew "Chubby" Chandler. While he was with the company he won the 2012 PGA Championship, rose to number one in the world and signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Nike, worth in excess of £60m.

But in May 2013, he left to set up his own management company. Soon afterwards he launched legal action against Horizon claiming that the terms of his deal with them had been unfair. He is also suing two other companies, Gurteen Limited and Canovan Management Services, thought to be related to Horizon.

Why is he taking legal action?

Because he believes he was taken advantage of. According to documents filed last year McIlroy "felt he was coaxed into signed a 'limiting' deal with the company," explains Golf Digest magazine. "McIlroy also said in a statement that his agent, Conor Ridge, and Horizon were 'primarily concerned with maximizing their own share of any commission'. Translation: McIlroy felt he was unfairly paying too much money to his agents."

McIlroy has described his agreement with Horizon as a "unconscionable contract" and the BBC adds: "The golfer claims a representation agreement signed by him almost three years ago is invalid and unenforceable on a number of grounds. He said he signed it when he was just 22. He said he was inexperienced and did not have independent legal advice."

It is thought that McIlroy is hoping to recover almost £6m in fees.

Where does Graeme McDowell fit into this?

One of the McIlroy's concerns is that he was on "markedly inferior" terms to fellow-countryman McDowell, who had been with the company since 2007.

McDowell is leaving Horizon at the end of the year, but details of his contract with the company may become public during the court case.

What does Horizon say?

Horizon is counter-suing McIroy, claiming he owes £1.6m in unpaid fees. Then there is the issue of sponsorship deals negotiated while he was with the company. "While he was with the company that he signed up with Nike and other major sponsors, including Omega and Bose," says the Telegraph. "Horizon believes it is due commissions paid as well as future commissions, which could run into tens of millions."

When will the case be heard?

A trial is now expected in February despite what the Guardian calls a "plea for an out-of-court settlement" from Mr Justice Brian McGovern after it became apparent that McDowell's finances could be laid bare as a result of a court case.

The two sides will be back in court in November to discuss issues relating to documents to be used in the trial.

How significant is McIlroy's absence?

"The last, and only, time a world No 1 has sidelined himself for anything other than fitness reasons was Tiger Woods five years ago in the midst of his infamous scandal," says James Corrigan of the Telegraph.

"The McIlroy fallout should not begin to reach those depths, but the very fact the 25-year-old – who won the last two majors of the season to re-establish himself as golf's undisputed best – is already focused on his appearance on the stand in a Dublin court early next year, will cause fears that it could affect his bid for The Masters."

His absence is also a "serious blow" for the tournaments he is missing, says the Guardian.


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