Graeme McDowell backed his friend Rory McIlroy to emerge from his “mini-crisis” after the world No.1 withdrew from the Honda Classic in Florida.
The defending champion quit midway through his second round claiming he was “in a bad place mentally” on a dramatic day in Palm Beach – then later claimed a sore wisdom tooth was the reason for his early exit.
Beginning on the back nine, McIlroy played his opening eight holes of the round in seven over par, then found the water at the 18th – his ninth hole – and immediately quit the tournament.
It was McIlroy’s first-ever withdrawal from a tournament as a professional but, playing with clubs from new sponsors Nike, it is the third time this year he has failed to reach Saturday – having missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and been knocked out of the Accenture Match Play Championship in the first round by Shane Lowry.
Fellow Northern Irishman McDowell, tied for 11th going into the weekend, said: “I’m sure he knows what he needs to do. Only he knows where he’s at in his own mind. We all experience moments of this in our career. This is only a mini-crisis. I look at the Match Play as a complete anomaly. He’s missed two cuts, big deal. There’s a lot of golf left.”
McIlroy initially told reporters he was “in a bad place mentally”, but later released a statement saying: “I sincerely apologise to the Honda Classic and PGA Tour for my sudden withdrawal. 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 [painkiller] 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.”
McIlroy has 14 days to submit written evidence to the PGA to support his claim, with a fine or suspension possible.
The link between McIlroy’s slump and his new clubs has already been speculated on and, although he admitted the change had affected his confidence, he had insisted on Thursday following his level-par opening round that he was rounding the corner.
After two rounds, Luke Guthrie had a one-shot lead from of Michael Thompson following a 63 which put him nine under overall.
Boo Weekley and Graham DeLaet were seven under, while England’s Lee Westwood and Justin Rose headed a group of six players on six under.