McIlroy WDs after miserable start to second round
PHOTOS: Rory McIlroy at Honda Classic (2nd round)
Check out images of Rory McIlroy during and after he withdrew from the Honda Classic on Friday.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The No. 1 golfer on the planet sure doesn’t appear anything near it these days.
On a chilly, overcast Friday morning at PGA National, the bubbling pot that has been Rory McIlroy’s rugged 2013 season finally spilled over in frustration. And midway through his second round at the Honda Classic, he simply walked away.
That’s your World No. 1, folks, headed out the gates. Exit, stage left.
The scene was staggering. Stunning. McIlroy, his hands tucked in his pockets and his thoughts a million miles away, did not complete his ninth hole Friday morning at the Honda Classic. Standing at 7 over through eight holes, and having just dunked his third ball in three holes into a water hazard, McIlroy approached the green, handed off his scorecard, shook hands with fellow competitors Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and headed through the dark grandstand tunnel for the parking lot.
Just like that, he was finished.
McIlroy was the champion here a year ago, when he held off Tiger Woods and ascended to the top perch in golf, the first of his five victories around the globe, which would include his second major (the PGA Championship).
But on Friday morning, once again his swing and ballstriking seemed to be an unsolvable puzzle, and once his second shot splashed into water at his ninth hole (PGA National’s par-5 18th), that was it. Enough was enough.
“There’s not really say much I can say, guys,” he said, barely audible when his long march to the parking lot finally ended near the trunk of his blue BMW sports car. “I’m not in a good place mentally, you know?”
At least three times on his quarter-mile walk from the 18th hole to the parking lot McIlroy was asked if there was anything wrong with him physically. Three times he answered, “No.” McIlroy later released a statement apologizing to the Honda Classic and PGA Tour for his WD, stating that he withdrew because of “severe wisdom teeth pain” that left him “unable to concentrate.” In the statement, he said his decision to withdraw “was one I had to make.”
(Apologies to Rory, but on this day, we’re simply not buying it. Surely the troubling swing woes that have pestered him – too outside on the takeaway, too inside on his path to the ball – would trump any toothache. This one was mental, not dental.)
Unfortunately, McIlroy was traversing his first eight holes at PGA National like a 15-handicapper in the ‘C’ Flight of the club member-guest. It’s not what we have come to expect from this young magician. A day earlier, he seemed to have at least temporarily righted what has been a listing ship, shooting 70 despite a sloppy bogey at the last hole, but later he admitted he was tangled up in swing thoughts as he played.
On Friday, his embattled swing went awry early, and no longer did he mask his frustration. Heading off the 10th hole at 7:25 a.m., he made double bogey from the middle of the fairway at the par-4 11th, where a weak approach nearly caromed off a greenside bank into a hazard. He chipped across the green, hit a second poor chip, and slammed his club into the bank. Six. At 12, facing 112 yards to the flagstick, he stuck his wedge in the ground, then flung the club to the turf in disgust.
At 13, his 3-wood off the tee barely cleared a hazard; at 14, his tee shot again finished but a few yards from water. He made a nice downhill 8-footer just to stay 3 over.
At the 15th, the start of PGA National's feared Bear Trap, McIlroy hit an iron shot that landed safely on the green, dangerously right of the flag, but he stood on the tee and stared at his divot for nearly 30 seconds, mystified, as if some unearthly intruder was playing golf in his body. At No. 16, the unraveling of Young Master Rory shifted into high gear. After his 3-wood found water right off the tee, he took a drop, and his approach from 176 yards also finished in water. He made a 6-footer for triple bogey. He all but ran through the par-3 17th, where he hit the green but three-putted from 40 feet, and took only seconds to snare a driver and belt a tee shot at 18, which he bombed long and straight down the fairway.
When his 40th shot of the morning kerplunked into water fronting the green, that was it. Finito. A-Rory-derci, PGA National. Or, as some would claim, game, set, wisdom tooth.
“I’m a great fan of Rory’s, but I don’t think that was the right thing to do,” Els said.
Sadly, you really feel for this kid. For the time being, he clearly has lost his way, and it's wearing on him. Rory is personable, accessible, quite likeable. A global rising star. He has stood there stoicly and fielded the tough questions about his swing struggles and his offseason equipment change. Off the course, he’s strode into a new financial stratosphere, signing huge multiyear deals from Nike (estimated at $20 million annually) and earlier this week, Bose. But on the course, between those ropes, he is searching, struggling to find any semblance of his game beneath a glaring spotlight that is only growing in intensity.
As the Masters grows closer, it will grow red hot.
McIlroy made it a point earlier in the week to say he wasn’t “concerned” about his game, but certainly, he’s got to be concerned now. The only swing coach he’s ever had, Michael Bannon, was watching Friday, as were McIlroy’s parents, Rose and Gerry. To remember where this kid stood just a year ago, even five months ago, it’s painful for the entire sport to see this play out, even, as his good pal Graeme McDowell points out, it’s still “early days.”
Asked if he’d spend his weekend working on his game, McIlroy nodded affirmatively. Eventually, with hard work and some elbow grease, this all will get sorted out. But today, that gap between where he stands and where he stood last autumn? Well, it's farther than Palm Beach Gardens to Ireland. To him, anyway.
“I’m sure the guy has a lot of things on his mind,” McDowell said. “When you start trying to prove things to other people, and you stop playing for yourself, it’s a very dangerous place to be. He’s had a funny start to the year. He’s got no momentum, nothing to pull on … He’s going to walk away from here having gained nothing.”
McIlroy was near tears shortly before he ducked into the car to make the 10-minute drive to his new Florida home at Old Gate, around the corner from the Bear’s Club. For him, it will be a weekend of deep introspection.
Asked about his swing, he quietly answered, “Yeah, I really don’t know what’s going on.”
Nor does anyone, really. The car wheels began to roll, and just like that, the World No. 1 was gone.