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Legal worries a distraction in tough 2013, says McIlroy

Team Europe golfer Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland bends backwards as he misses a birdie putt to halve the seventh hole during the morning
Team Europe golfer Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland bends backwards as he misses a birdie putt to halve the seventh hole during the morning

By Matt Smith

DUBAI (Reuters) - Legal problems were a distraction which affected his golf this year, former world number one Rory McIlroy said on Tuesday as he prepared to defend the World Tour Championship title he won in sizzling style last year.

The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland birdied the final five holes in Dubai 12 months ago to claim his second tour title of the year and finish top of both the European and U.S. money lists.

In a barren 2013, however, he has tumbled to sixth in the world rankings.

That slump followed McIlroy's sponsorship switch to Nike in January, which prompted a former sponsor, American sportswear company Oakley, to launch legal action against him.

In September he terminated his contract with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management to form his own management company and the acrimonious split has now reached the courts.

"It's something that I don't really think any athlete or anyone should ever go through," McIlroy told reporters.

"I've seen more lawyers' offices and more lawyers this year than I care to see in my entire life. It's not something I ever want to go through again and I'm making sure that I won't ever go through it again."

The twice major winner said his legal worries did not directly result in him hitting specific bad shots.

"But as a golfer you want your mind as clear as possible, and it's obviously hard for that to happen if you've got other things that are going on that, firstly, you don't want to happen, and secondly you don't feel should be happening. It's been a distraction," McIlroy said.

He is ranked a lowly 46th in the Race to Dubai - the European Order of Merit - and has no chance of topping the money list for a second year, but the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 U.S. PGA champion was upbeat about his prospects of claiming a first tour title of 2013 at the $8 million Dubai event.

"If I can drive the ball well and drive it long and straight, it gives me a huge advantage over most of the field and it's something that when I'm on my game, I can really take advantage of, and I was able to do that last year," added McIlroy.

"This is a perfect golf course for that. If you can carry it over 300 yards, you've got a huge advantage on some of the guys here, and it's something I'll be trying to do this week."

(Editing by Tony Goodson)

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