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Back or Not? Don't Subject Rory McIlroy to the Tiger Woods Treatment

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COMMENTARY | Rory McIlroy is not Tiger Woods.


No kidding, Smart Guy.

But a whole lot of people want him to be the next Tiger Woods. Or the next guy that's close in proximity to Tiger Woods. Because if that's the case, McIlroy is subjected to the kind of instant analysis Woods is.

You can see it every time Woods plays. With every shot, there's commentary on social media. He's back! He's not! Sean Foley stinks! He'll never win another major! He might win another 30! The volume of the hyperbole and its frequency is downright deafening, numbing to an earnest discussion about Woods' form, his chances to catch Jack Nicklaus' majors tally and his place in the game's pantheon.

Now the same kind of thing is happening to McIlroy. With two majors under his belt before the age of 25, McIlroy catapulted to No. 1 in the world in 2012, supplanting Woods and a trio of somewhat underwhelming replacements since Halloween 2010, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald. McIlroy cashed in on his success and global fame by inking a $20 million per year deal with Nike Golf, which began in 2013, as well as deals with other sponsors.

With success comes opportunity and expectation. McIlroy took advantage of the opportunity, now holding a nine-figure guarantee for his future. However, he defied expectations in a bad way in 2013. McIlroy hasn't won this season. He's posted four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, but just one on the medal stand -- an emergency start at the Valero Texas Open netted him a T-2. Last week, McIlroy had a final-round surge to notch the same finish in the Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour against a relatively weak field.

McIlroy didn't win a major and wasn't even close in picking up a third in as many years. How dare he! Now he's sixth in the world ranking and, by all accounts, a bum, right?

Of course, golf's amateur Sherlock Holmes have been trying to pinpoint what's wrong all season.

It had to be the Nike equipment, right? Their stuff, critics said, is inferior to his prior equipment sponsor, Titleist. The data, as I've previously reported, has disproven that point.

Maybe it's that tennis-playing girlfriend -- or is she?! -- of his, Caroline Wozniacki. McIlroy traveled to so many of her events, haters suggested, that McIlroy couldn't focus on his game.

McIlroy offered his own assessment, suggesting that he didn't have the kind of time he once did to hone in on his craft because of all the demands on his time that come with those lucrative sponsorship deals, as well being the global player of the year in 2012.

The Ulsterman knows what ails him. This year has been a transition in a lot of ways for McIlroy. He's moved to the States -- and will make it his permanent base going forward -- while in a very public relationship, becoming a wheeler and dealer with high-stakes sponsors and is trying to find a few freaking minutes out of his day to do what he loves: golf.

Except for the being-a-millionaire part, it kind of sounds like McIlroy is going through what most recreational players do. They want to get better but they can't because time isn't on their side.

McIlroy showed some life this week, beating Tiger Woods in an 18-hole exhibition in China on Monday. A win is a win, even a one-shot win in a hit-n-giggle where McIlroy was guaranteed more money than he'd win for taking any major title. Then he opened the WGC-HSBC Champions on Thursday in Shanghai with a 65, jumping out to a lead that suggested he might be finding form. Friday was a setback, however, as even-par 72 on a get-able golf course left him five behind Dustin Johnson.

Why don't we just call 2013 (even if, as far as the PGA Tour is concerned, it's a new season) a wash for McIlroy? Let it play out how it will, hopefully with the guy getting into the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and doing something positive. McIlroy can sort out his new management company, whatever he needs to with the 14 clubs in his bag, the girl on arm and how he manages his time.

McIlroy will come back strong in 2014, returning to the form of a guy who is stronger and smarter because of the hard public lessons he's learned in 2013.

McIlroy will be back -- and better than ever.

Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer and owner of Golf News Net. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee and on Google+.

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