SINGAPORE -- Rory McIlroy says he occasionally needs to escape from golf -- as he controversially did last week, even though a World Golf Championship event was being played.
The world No. 1 returns to action at the Barclays Singapore Open and by Sunday night he could have clinched the money titles on both the European Tour and PGA Tours – achieved for the first time last year by by Luke Donald.
Skipping the HSBC Champions in China didn’t harm his chances, but it did bring him criticism -- especially because he wasin China at the start of the week for a head-to-head exhibition match with Tiger Woods that was rumored to have earned each of them a seven-figure sum. McIlroy then chose to fly to Bulgaria to watch girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis.
"I need those weeks where I can just completely escape from this, from my life," McIlroy said Wednesday. "I forget where I am, what I do, I'm completely away from it and those weeks are very helpful for me. You see some guys out there, golf is everything, their life -- of course it's my life and I'm very lucky, too -- but sometimes you need to step away from it.
"Spending time with Caroline helps me to do that. That's the biggest challenge for us going forward," he explained. "I can't play every week. If I had I would have played five in a row, finishing the season and after playing Turkey and Ryder Cup and all the FedExCup stuff, it's just too much."
While he was off last week, he and Titleist confirmed that their five-year association is ending. He is thought to be switching to Nike, but he wasn’t about to discuss that when he spoke on Wednesday. He even cast doubt over whether it is a done deal yet.
"I'm a Titleist player until the end of the year. I've made no commitment to any company going for next year," he stated. "It's a process we're working through and you'll probably hear about it in the next few weeks."
While anybody would find it hard to say no to such a fortune, McIlroy is fast learning that he simply cannot agree to everything put in front of him.
"Managing time is a very important part of my life. It's something I learnt to do a little bit better last year after the U.S. Open in 2011," he added. "People want you to do more things and you have to learn how to say 'No'.
"You have to be selfish sometimes and look after yourself. It doesn't make you a bad person -- you can't do everything, you can't make everyone happy," he said. "You have got to put yourself first and foremost and try fit in the things you want to do. I'm in the fortunate position where I can dictate where I want to play, what I want to do, where I want to go."
His lead at the top of the European Order of Merit is more than $980,000 and nearest challengers Peter Hanson, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter aren’t playing this week or at next week's UBS Hong Kong Open, where he is the defending champion.
Unless South African Louis Oosthuizen wins on Sunday to jump into second spot, a third-place finish could see McIlroy clinch with two weeks to spare.
"For sure I'm in the lead at the minute and it would be nice to increase that," he said. "There's still a lot to play for in the next three weeks and I want to finish off the season as strong as possible. It would be great to get another win or two."
Oosthuizen's opportunity to grab the money-list title may have come and gone when he crashed from five clear to only a sixth-place finish last week. Phil Mickelson tied for second there, and also has moved on to Singapore, as has Australian Adam Scott, going for a fourth victory at the event in eight years.
Scott is sixth in the world, but hasn’t tasted victory since August last year and shockingly, of course, bogeyed the last four holes when four clear at the British Open in July.
Mickelson and Scott partner Ireland's Padraig Harrington in the opening two rounds and he is hoping his victory last month in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda was a sign of good things to come.
"Winning is a habit," Harrington said. "It was only 36 holes and there were only four players, but still you get the same feelings when you're coming down the stretch. Those are the sorts of experiences you want to have as often as possible. It makes winning easier.
"I see good things ahead, absolutely. I hit the ball very well this year and my weakness this year has traditionally been my strength -- I didn't putt very well," he added. "The good thing about that is I believe I can bring it back. There's a lot of optimism in my game going forward. I believe I'm coming back into another peak."