Rory McIlroy walks off at PGA National with various aches in mind
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – In the same place and same week where a year earlier Rory McIlroy first ascended to the top rung of golf, the world No. 1 hit a dark low on Friday.
McIlroy walked off the 18th hole before finishing at PGA National after hitting his third ball in the water that morning. Upon leaving the course, the only thing he said to a few reporters before getting in his car to head to his home in nearby Jupiter was “I’m not in a great place mentally. I can’t really say much, guys. I’m just in a bad place mentally.’’
Within an hour, the defending champion issued a statement through the PGA Tour citing severe wisdom tooth pain affecting his concentration.
“I sincerely apologise to the The Honda Classic and PGA Tour for my sudden withdrawal,” McIlroy’s statement said. “I have been suffering with 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 the results haven’t revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner. This is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and I regret having to make the decision to withdraw, but it was one I had to make.”
The medical reason, required by the tour to avoid fines for walking off the golf course before completing a round, raised a few snickers and doubts of authenticity on Twitter since McIlroy had given no previous indication he was having any issues other than with his golf game. He was 7-over through the first eight holes of the back nine on Friday, with a double and triple already marring his scorecard. He shook hands with playing partners Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and left the course immediately.
“I’m a great fan of Rory’s, but I don’t think that was the right thing to do,” said Els after the round.
McIlroy’s agent, Conor Ridge, reportedly said, “He’s not hurt. He’s not sick. And he won’t answer his phone. I don’t know.”
One humorous response on Twitter asked if McIlroy’s comment before leaving the course had been misheard by reporters. “Are we sure @McIlroyRory didn’t say, ‘I’m not in a good place DENTALLY?’”
The circumstances of his abrupt departure only add more questions to the murky state of McIlroy’s game in 2013 after making a wholesale switch to Nike equipment after signing a reported deal in excess of $200 million in the offseason. McIlroy’s debuted in Abu Dhabi with consecutive 75s to miss the cut. He was eliminated in the first round of last week’s WGC Match Play by the last seed, Irishman Shane Lowry. He hasn’t broken par in any of his four-and-a-half tournament rounds he’s played this season.
On Tuesday before the tournament, McIlroy talked of splitting a pair of 18-hole matches against Tiger Woods at the nearby Medalist Golf Club on Sunday and said everybody was making too big a deal about his equipment changes.
“It’s fine, I knew coming into it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew it there was going to be comments if it didn’t happen for me right way,” he said. “I’m only two tournaments into the season. I’ve still got more than 20 to go. So it’s not like I’m in any rush. It’s not like I’m pushing for answers or I’m looking for answers. Everything’s there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
McIlroy shot even-par 70 on Thursday and seemed deflated after making bogey 6 on the 18th hole despite sitting only 106 yards from the pin in the fairway after two shots on the par-5.
“So just a bit more work on the swing and try to get a bit more comfortable with that and should be okay,” he said. “But I felt like I hit the ball okay today, not as good as I can, but it’s getting there.”
Whether mentally or dentally induced, the first day of March just turned out to be a bigger headache for the world No. 1 with just a little over a month to go before the Masters. He tweeted that his withdrawal left him “gutted.”
Els said McIlroy didn’t give them a reason for leaving and just handed him his scorecard.
“Hey, listen, if something was bothering him, you know, it was bothering him and all credit to him trying to play through whatever pain he was in,” Els said. “He obviously couldn’t do it after nine holes anymore. Toothache, it’s not fun I guess.
“He’s feeling terrible about it, I know he is. That’s the last thing he wants to do is walk off. Yeah, if he’s 7 over or whatever he was, you’ve got something bothering you, you know, the rules of play, you can walk off at any time. Obviously something was seriously bothering him, and he was not going to make the cut and probably didn’t want to continue playing that way.”
Els gives McIlroy the benefit of the doubt that his toothache was a contributing factor, but it’s the equipment changes and struggles with his game that are going to dominate the headlines.
“Yeah, unfortunately, it seems like it’s kind of building now a little bit,” Els said of the scrutiny. “I didn’t think much of the equipment change. We’ve all made equipment changes before. I think there was a bit of criticism somewhere, and then I think he’s furthering 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. You know, such a talented player, he’ll get it figured out.”