Frustrated McIlroy walks off course at Honda

Whether his pain was mental or dental, Rory McIlroy walked off

the course in the middle of his round Friday at the Honda Classic

and invited even more scrutiny of golf’s No. 1 player.

McIlroy already was 7-over par through eight holes when he hit

his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th and didn’t bother

hitting another shot. He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark

Wilson, turned in his scorecard and walked straight to the parking

lot.

McIlroy told three reporters who followed him that he’s ”not in

a good place mentally.”

An hour later, his management company issued a statement that

the 23-year-old McIlroy couldn’t concentrate because of a sore

wisdom tooth.

His abrupt departure only added to the sloppy start to his young

season, and raised concerns with the Masters just more than a month

away. In three tournaments, he has missed the cut in Abu Dhabi,

lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and withdrew

after 26 holes at PGA National.

”His demeanor looks a little different,” said Graeme McDowell,

one of his best friends. ”I felt like he was a little off with his

golf swing on the range. There were a few moans and groans coming

from the bay next to me. It’s normally a display. It’s normally a

clinic. It’s superlatives coming from the coach and the caddie.

That’s the sign of a guy who’s lacking a little technique in his

swing and a little belief in his game.”

In the parking lot, McIlroy was asked three times if anything

was wrong physically and he said no. Golfweek magazine reported he

was near tears.

”There’s not really much I can say, guys,” McIlroy said. ”I’m

not in a good place mentally, you know?”

Els also hit into the water on the 18th and was complaining to a

rules official about the muddy conditions of the fairway when he

figured out McIlroy was through.

”I was dropping my ball and I realized he wasn’t dropping his

ball,” Els said. ”I thought maybe his ball crossed further up

(the hazard). When I hit my fourth shot, he just came up and said,

`Here’s my card. I’m out of here.”’

McIlroy, who last year won the Honda Classic to go to No. 1 in

the world for the first time, apologized to the tournament for his

”sudden withdrawal.”

”I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due

to come out in the near future,” McIlroy said. ”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.”

He was seen eating a sandwich on the 18th fairway.

”I’m a great fan of Rory’s, but I don’t think that was the

right thing to do,” Els said.

Told about McIlroy’s statement about the sore wisdom tooth, Els

softened his stance, not wanting to judge another player’s

pain.

”I didn’t see anything, but if he had a toothache, that’s what

it is, you know?” Els said. ”Hey, it’s tough. If you ask him how

he’s feeling now, he’s obviously feeling terrible for what’s

happened this morning.”

”I didn’t notice anything,” Wilson said. ”He wasn’t playing

the way the world No. 1 plays normally. Didn’t hit the ball where

he wanted to, and he’s a true gentleman, though. He … wasn’t

treating Ernie and myself in a different way. He was upset with his

golf and I guess he had enough for the week.”

Tiger Woods understand better than anyone in golf what it’s like

to have every move judged, though for Woods it started not long

after he turned pro in 1996.

”You’ve just got to … think about it a little bit more before

you say something or do something,” Woods said. ” It can get out

of hand, especially when you get into social media and start

tweeting and all those different things that can go wrong. Jokingly

saying something doesn’t always come off as saying that, even

though the intent was different.”

McIlroy, coming off a year in which he won a second major with a

record, already set himself up for scrutiny when he left Titleist

to sign an equipment deal with Nike that was said to be worth

upward of $20 million a year. Instead of taking a long winter

break, he spent much of December trying to adjust to his new clubs.

McIlroy said Tuesday it wasn’t the clubs; his swing was out of

sorts.

”I’m sure the guy has got a lot on his mind,” McDowell said.

”When you start trying to prove things to other people and you

stop playing for yourself, it’s a dangerous place to be. … Any

player would have did what he’s done with regard to the equipment

change. He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen. Once

he starts believing in himself, he’ll be back.”

McIlroy won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots last

year, making him the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros in 1980

to win two majors. McIlroy won the U.S. Open in 2011 by eight shots

with a record score.

Nike introduced him with blaring music and a laser show in Abu

Dhabi, but it’s been all downhill from there.

After rounds of 75-75 in Abu Dhabi, he took a four-week break

and spent time with tennis girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. He was

eliminated at Match Play in a sloppy performance by both of them.

McIlroy returned to Florida and played 36 holes with Woods at The

Medalist.

He said on Tuesday that it was no time to panic so early in the

season.

”Even though my results haven’t revealed it, I really felt like

I was rounding a corner,” McIlroy said. ”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.”

It looked more like McIlroy was sinking than rounding the

corner, not difficult to do on a course with so many water hazards.

And he found plenty of them.

McIlroy, who opened with a 70, hit two poor chips that led to

double bogey on No. 11, and a wild tee shot to the right led to a

bogey on the 13th. His round really unraveled on the par-4 16th,

when he hit his tee shot to the right and into the water, took a

penalty drop and then came up short of the green and into the water

again on his way to a triple bogey. He three-putted from 40 feet on

the 17th, running his first putt about 10 feet by the hole, for a

bogey to go 7 over.

And then came the approach on the 18th that found water for the

third time on his short day.

McIlroy is scheduled to play next week in the Cadillac

Championship at Doral, which has no cut, and then the Houston Open.

But on the first day of March, he left having completed only round

of competition.

”I didn’t think much of the equipment change. We’ve all made

equipment changes before,” said Els, who has used three brands of

clubs to win majors. ”I think there was a bit of criticism

somewhere, and then I think he’s further responding to that, and I

think he’s got a bit of pressure coming on him that way. I thought

he played quite well yesterday. I thought he was pretty close to

playing good golf, and unfortunately this morning … hopefully he

gets it together. We’ve got next week, got four rounds there. Such

a talented player. He’ll get it figured out.”

Geoff Ogilvy always preached caution about rushing to judgment

of Boy Wonder. A year ago, McIlroy missed the cut in four out of

five tournaments, including the U.S. Open. He won four times from

August to November, including the PGA and two FedEx Cup playoff

events.

”Everyone is being a little hard on the equipment,” Ogilvy

said. ”He has a plan. He had a plan last year, and it all worked

out for him. He had a rubbish year, really, until late summer. In

May, everyone was throwing him under the bus and everyone was

claiming him at the end of the year.

”He’ll probably go win the Masters by eight and we’ll all go,

`He knew what he was doing.’ ”

It was the second straight year one of golf’s biggest stars

failed to finish a tournament on the Florida swing. Woods withdrew

after 11 holes on the final round at Doral last year because of

tightness in his Achilles tendon, raising questions about the

seriousness of his recurring leg injuries. He won Bay Hill two

weeks later.