Commentary

What's love got to do with it?

Updated: July 22, 2012, 11:33 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy Indigo/Getty ImagesCaroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy are attempting a difficult feat: maintaining a high-profile relationship while trying to win at the highest levels of professional sports.

Their love was like you read about. You rarely saw them apart. It was a romance that was pure and torrid, and it seemed as though nothing would ever tear them apart.

Which is why it's so sad now that Rory McIlroy and golf seem to have broken up.

McIlroy, once the world No. 1, seems to have a new love -- fetching Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki -- and now golf isn't speaking to him. He has missed four of his past six cuts and hasn't sniffed a top 20 in a major since he won the 2011 U.S. Open.

As he heads to this week's Open Championship in Lytham St. Annes, England, his game seems to be saying, "Either she goes or I do."

This never happened to you?

"I remember when I was 23 and had an attractive girlfriend," golfer Luke Donald said the other day. "I would take my eye off the ball sometimes, as well. You can't blame him."

Come to think of it, love has left Wozniacki with a lot of free time, too. She was No. 1 in the world when she started dating the mop-topped Northern Irishman and has since dropped to eighth, getting booted in the third round of the French Open in early June and the first round at Wimbledon less than four weeks later.

Honey, good news! I'm out, too! Meet you in the Bahamas!

"Obviously I'm aware of what's in the media," McIlroy said recently. "It's just a matter of not letting it get to you. I've always said that if I'm happy and content off the course, that's when I play my best golf."

Something seems to be getting to him. It has gotten to better, and older, athletes than him.

Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Matt Kemp never played worse than in the season he was dating rapturous singer Rihanna. Year before Rihanna: .297. During Rihanna: .249, and he was called out by his coaches for lack of hustle. (Who can hustle when your heart is singing?) Year after Rihanna: .324 and should've been MVP. Maybe she can date and dump Albert Pujols next?

Tennis great Andre Agassi was a monster until he fell in love with actress Brooke Shields, star of the TV sitcom "Suddenly Susan," in 1997. Before Shields: three majors and a gold medal. During Shields: He was suddenly losin', dropping to 141 in the world and winning zero majors. The year after divorcing Shields: two major wins and back to No. 1.

Maybe the greatest female golfer of our generation, Annika Sorenstam, left golf completely for love. She quit the game in 2008 to marry Mike McGee. She had a baby by 2009. She has never come back to the game.

Lorena Ochoa retired in 2010 at age 29, after 27 LPGA wins, two major titles and a three-year run as Wonder Woman. She got married in 2009 and had a baby this past December. No signs yet that she'll return to the game.

What can you do? The heart wants what it wants.

For instance, in May, Wozniacki was in Paris, playing the French. McIlroy was in Wentworth, England, playing the European PGA Championship. He was there, but his heart was at Roland Garros. Pretty soon, it was Wentworth 40-love. He missed the cut. "Half my body was in Wentworth and half was in Paris," he admitted.

McIlroy missed two straight cuts after that and hasn't broken an egg since. Hey, it's not easy to read greens with stars in your eyes.

"Wozzilroy" as the British tabs call the couple, met at a heavyweight championship fight on May 18, 2011. They had so much in common. They were young and fresh-faced and made millions slapping balls around. She liked his fuzz. He liked her dimples. The chemistry was so right, McIlroy broke up with his girlfriend of six years, Holly Sweeney, to be with her.

Since then, they've flown all over to watch each other play and practice. McIlroy even took her place for a point at Madison Square Garden in an exhibition match against Maria Sharapova, which he won!

This love affair is as juicy to Europe as Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert were to America. Remember? The two tennis sex symbols got engaged and promptly both won Wimbledon in 1974. Sadly, it was not a long rally. By 1975, they were splitsville. Connors went on to marry a Playboy bunny, but Evert stuck with jocks: tennis' John Lloyd, skiing's Andy Mill, golf's Greg Norman.

So are Wozz and Ilroy a bad match? Of course not. The truth is, Wozniacki has inspired McIlroy to some of the best golf of his life, to say nothing of the best times. In one stretch, he had 11 top-5 finishes in 12 tournaments. In golf, "love" doesn't mean nothing.

And Wozniacki's troubles have less to do with mad love than bad timing. She rose to No. 1 while Serena and Venus Williams were out of the game with injuries and Victoria Azarenka hadn't yet arrived in full. Once they showed up again, she dropped like Enron stock.

If McIlroy goes nowhere in this Open, it won't be because of Wozniacki. She's not even with him this week. She's at home preparing for her attempt to win a gold medal in the London Olympics.

So raise a glass to Wozzilroy. Long may they canoodle. After all, what does it matter where you are in the rankings as long as you're with The One?

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com