By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy has defended his decision to skip last week's WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China to watch his girlfriend play tennis but admits that the criticism of his no-show was fair.
The Briton returns to action at this week's co-sanctioned Singapore Open after taking a week off to cheer on Caroline Wozniacki at the Tournament of Champions in Bulgaria, a break he said was necessary despite the disappointment of golf fans.
"I think the criticism is fair... it's a World Golf Championship event, one of the big ones. It was a tough one to miss, especially watching it on television," McIlroy told reporters on Wednesday.
"But I can't play every week. If I had played that I would have finished the season having played in Turkey, after the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup stuff. It's just too much and one event had to miss out and that was it.
"I played the course at Mission Hills a couple of years ago and didn't really like it. Thought it was a course where I would get frustrated and am glad the event is going back to Shanghai next year."
World number two Tiger Woods also skipped the Shenzhen event in favor of rest and McIlroy realizes that since rising to the top of the game, he needs to strike the right balance between playing, fulfilling media commitments and taking time off.
"Managing time is a very important part of my life," the 23-year-old Northern Irishman added.
"I thought I did a little bit better this season than I did last year after I won the U.S. Open in 2011. People want more of you, they want you to do more things and you have to learn how to say 'no'.
"You have to be selfish sometimes. First and foremost, you have to look after yourself and fit in the things that you want to do.
"I am in a fortunate position that I can dictate where I want to play, what I want to do and where I want to go and as long as I am in that position then that's lovely."
Before taking their break, McIlroy and Woods squared off in a lucrative 18-hole exhibition in Guangzhou and despite beating the American in a good-natured showdown, the Briton maintains their friendship does not compromise their rivalry.
"It's not difficult to be competitive against him at all," McIlroy said. "For me, I never go into a tournament trying to beat just one player I try to play the golf course the best I can."
"There are going to be times where I come up against friends and guys I have close links with and you don't think about those things," he added.
"You just try and play the best you can. I am happy for the guy next to me to shoot seven-under as long as I shoot eight-under and win. I don't care if they play well or not, I just want to play better."
(Editing by Alastair Himmer)