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The pressure has got to Rory McIlroy, admits friend Graeme McDowell

It’s tough at the top, says G-Mac, as spotlight ‘takes it’s toll’ on the world No 1.

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RORY MCILROY’S FELLOW Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell has sympathised with the world number one’s predicament in 2013.

McIlroy, 23, has had the spotlight on him so far this season, after switching his clubs from Titleist to Nike in an estimated US$240million deal.

McDowell, who found fame with his win at the 2010 US Open, said McIlroy’s meteoric rise of recent times has set him up for the slump that he has experienced on tour.

“I had a micro-version of what he’s going through … coming from a small town in Northern Ireland, and then financially, then the spotlight … everything is increased,” McDowell told PGATour.com. “I’ve been shocked at how well he’s handled everything. Sure, he’s been bred for stardom since an early age and his upbringing was Tiger-esque. He’s taken it in stride. But in the end something had to give.

“The Nike contract, all the stardom, being the number one player in the world, all the pressure — it has taken its toll.”

McDowell said he underwent a similar transition after his breakthrough major victory, and it made him more conscious of performing for sponsors.

“In 2011, I signed with Srixon, was the reigning US Open champion, a top five player in the world. All these things took a toll on me,” he said. “There were a lot of distractions off the course. All of a sudden your sponsors want a piece of you, media wants a piece of you, fans want a piece of you. Everything increases exponentially.”

McDowell admitted he took time away from the game to bring himself back down to earth.

“You have to be disciplined and prioritize and continue to do the things that got you there. I stepped outside of my space for about six months from maybe March until August or September 2011,” he said. “I was not the same guy. Expectations were elevated in my head. My patience levels were decreased to a minimum. I was on edge. It took me a while to acknowledge it and take a step back.”

After McIlroy’s highly publicised walk off at the Honda Classic in March, in which he claimed that a dental problem prevented him from being able to compete his second round, McDowell said he supported his countryman through the ordeal.

“We spoke via text after the Friday wisdom tooth incident, and he told me what he was feeling, and I told him I knew a little about what he was going through,” he said, after McIlroy conceded his premature exit from the tournament was a mistake.

“I gave him a few words of advice and I told him I’m always here. We practiced at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and he seemed like he’s in a much better place now.”

McDowell is in action at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill starting Thursday, with McIlroy skipping the event.

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