Golf’s boy wonder did the inexcusable on Friday, borrowing from the worst of John Daly’s sorry repertoire and quitting mid-round at the Honda Classic.
After walking off PGA National, where he was defending champion, the world No. 1 gave reporters a less-than-satisfactory explanation for his early departure.
“I can’t really say much, guys. I’m just in a bad place mentally,” he said.
Of course, not many professional golfers would be in a good place, mentally or otherwise, after playing eight holes in seven strokes over par.
He initially said the reason for his impolitic exit after rinsing his second shot into the par-5 18th — his ninth hole of the round — wasn’t physical but later changed his tune, blaming wisdom-tooth pain.
As one wag on Twitter quipped, McIlroy wasn’t in the right place mentally, or dentally.
“I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future,” McIlroy said in a statement issued by the PGA Tour.
“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.”
Yet Ernie Els was one of those playing partners — along with Mark Wilson — and he knew nothing about any tooth pain and seemed as shocked as anyone by McIlroy’s behavior.
Els said he had no clue anything was wrong until McIlroy walked up to him on the 18th and said: “Here’s my card, I’m outta here.”
“I’m a great fan of Rory’s, but I don’t think that was the right thing to do," Els told reporters after his round.
McIlroy’s agent, Conor Ridge, was also in the dark.
“He’s not hurt, he’s not sick and he won’t answer his phone. I don’t know,” Ridge told a reporter from the Golf Channel.
And it certainly isn’t helping McIlroy’s credibility that he was seen eating a sandwich not long before deciding to quit.
McIlroy’s not the first player to quit mid-round — medical excuses have a way of mysteriously appearing when a player’s on his way to a score in the 80s — but with great power comes great responsibility.
Simply put: Rory should be better than this.
If he had a toothache, he should’ve noted it immediately.
Now it looks like he’s making excuses like a schoolboy caught in a lie.
In my experience, McIlroy’s a refreshingly honest and affable young man. Part of his appeal — and part of the reason Nike committed at least $150 million to him — is his everyman personality, and that’s taken a hit.
“Rory’s turning into the spoiled rich kid before our eyes,” wrote one of my Twitter followers.
On another front, Friday’s withdrawal also exposed what many have feared: that his game’s in total disarray.
McIlroy was warned by many — including Nick Faldo — not to jump at Nike’s money so quickly because switching equipment can be a dangerous thing for a golfer. As Faldo noted, new clubs and balls can upset a player’s “feel.”
McIlroy has disputed the idea that the Nike equipment is the cause of his slump, blaming it instead on bad swing habits.
But the facts are that McIlroy has completed four rounds of golf this year while wearing the swoosh, and not one has been good.
After a glitzy, if tacky, unveiling as Nike’s next star in the Middle East, he proceeded to shoot 75-75 and miss the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Of most concern was that it seemed that he had not prepared. He literally looked like he hadn’t touched a club in weeks.
McIlroy compounded his horrible play in the Middle East by making a public relations faux pas, switching out his Nike putter for an old Scotty Cameron Titleist putter after just one round.
He then opted to take four weeks off, but looked even rustier last week at the Accenture World Match Play when he was dumped in the first round by the lowest-ranked player in the field, Shane Lowry.
He then opened his title defense at the Honda Classic with an up-and-down 70 before Friday’s debacle.
For those optimists looking for a silver lining, it’s not the first time McIlroy has been in a slump.
He was just as hapless at the Memorial last year — shooting a second-round 79 to miss the cut — yet two months later went on a winning spree that included his second major, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
So it may just be that instead of the next Tiger, Rory’s more like the next Phil — either brilliant or bad and rarely in between.
He will know more next week, when he plays at Doral in the Cadillac Championship, where — luckily for a man who needs tournament rounds — there is no cut.
McIlroy desperately needs a good week in Miami because the Masters is just a month away.