PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — World No. 1 player Rory McIlroy withdrew from The Honda Classic after completing just eight holes on Friday, citing a sore wisdom tooth in an official release.
That followed McIlroy, who was 7-over par, abruptly walking off the course after hitting his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th at PGA National saying, “I’m not in a great place mentally.”
It’s pertinent to know a few things:
1. PGA Tour policy allows a player to withdraw “because of injury or other disability which requires medical attention or serious personal emergency.”
2. McIlroy has struggled so far in 2013, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and being eliminated in the first round of last week’s Match Play Championship.
3. On Thursday, he said he was still trying to get comfortable with his swing and equipment after making a much-publicized switch in clubs from Titleist to Nike.
4. McIlroy is 23.
That last item might be the most telling. He’s not the first person his age to claim his head is “not in a great place.” Usually the reasons concern relationships, careers or academics. And most young adults don’t try to get to get their life together while being scrutinized by the media.
“I sincerely apologize to The Honda Classic for my sudden withdrawal,” said McIlroy, the defending Honda Classic champion, in a statement. “I have been suffering from a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future. It began bothering me again last night, so I relieved it with Advil. It was very painful again this morning, and I was simply unable to concentrate.
“It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners. I came here with every intention of defending my Honda Classic title. Even though my results haven’t revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner. This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year and I regret having to make the decision to withdraw, but it was one I had to make.”
McIlroy is widely known for being the world’s top golfer and a two-time Major champion, a personable native of Northern Ireland, and the boyfriend of international tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
And he’s only 23.
Ernie Els and Mark Wilson were McIlroy’s playing partners for the Honda’s first two rounds. Both were a bit surprised when told McIlroy’s official statement said his poor play had “begun to affect my playing partners.”
“I didn’t notice anything,” Wilson said. “He just wasn’t playing the way the world No. 1 plays, normally. He wasn’t hitting the ball where he wanted to.
“He’s a true gentlemen. He wasn’t treating Ernie or myself in a different way. He just was upset with his golf. I guess he had enough.”
When he was first asked about McIlroy, Els said: “I’m a great fan of Rory’s but I don’t think that was the right thing to do.”
Informed that McIlroy said he pulled out due to an achy wisdom tooth, Els was more understanding.
“If something was bothering him, it was bothering him,” Els said. “All credit to him for trying to play through whatever pain he was in.”
As a former world No. 1, Els can relate to the pressure that status brings.
“He’s feeling terrible about it, I know he is,” Els said. “That’s the last thing he wants to do, walk off.
“If you’re 7-over and you have something bothering you, the rules stipulate you can walk off. Obviously, something was seriously bothering him.”
Els shot down the notion that new clubs could have contributed to McIlroy’s decision.
“We’ve all made equipment changes before,” Els said. “I thought he played quite well (Thursday). I thought he was pretty close to playing good golf.
“He’s such an intelligent player, he’ll get it figured out.”
Another former world No. 1, Lee Westwood, played in the threesome right behind McIlroy’s group.
“I think someone told us (McIlroy withdrew), and they suddenly speeded up in front of us like they were a two instead of a three,” Westwood said. “It’s a fine line really and a difficult decision to make. You don’t want to withdraw but if you’re injured, you’re probably going to do the injury more damage.
“If you’re a few over par, people will say, ‘Ah, he took the way out.’ But if you’re injured, you’re injured. You pull out. There’s always another week.”
Entering this weekend, McIlroy had been expected to play next week at Doral and then the Shell Houston Open before competing at the Masters in April.
Wisdom teeth, the equipment change and even his relationship status figure to be topics of interest until McIlroy performs like the world’s No. 1 player.