HE WILL have a full-blooded press conference to get his teeth into the matter today but Rory McIlroy has already admitted he made one of the biggest mistakes of his career by walking off the course during last week’s Honda Classic in Florida.
A sore wisdom tooth was cited as the reason but, as soon as the two-times major winner had arrived back at his home in Jupiter Island after the short journey from Palm Beach Gardens, it was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that was worrying him most.
The world No 1 knew he’d broken one of the game’s unwritten golden rules when, after playing the opening eight holes of his second round in seven-over and then finding a water hazard on the 18th, he immediately quit the tournament. “It was a reactive decision,” McIlroy told Sports Illustrated ahead of his scheduled interview today on the eve of the WGC-Cadillac Championship over the TPC Blue Monster at Doral in Miami. “What I should have done is take my drop, chip it on, try to make a five and play my hardest on the back nine, even if I shot 85. What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me – it was not the right thing to do.”
Coming clean is the start of McIlroy – who has 14 days from the date of his withdrawal to submit written evidence to the PGA Tour to support his claim of medical grounds, with a fine or suspension possible if the body is not satisfied with his explanation – trying to do the right things again. He’ll face a grilling from the assembled media in Florida today and it’s unlikely the questions will be restricted to dental health, although it has been reported that his Belfast dentist faxed a letter to the PGA Tour offices on Monday describing McIlroy’s condition with both of his lower wisdom teeth.
McIlroy is believed to have worn braces last year in an effort to create separation for the two teeth, one of which he said was “growing sideways”. It has also been reported that he had been prescribed a painkiller, which he did not use last Friday but will now use as needed until he next sees his dentist.
Also likely to come up in the interview room at Doral is the current status of McIlroy’s relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, the former women’s world No 1 tennis player. Ever since getting together, they’ve courted publicity, with Wozniacki even grabbing the microphone and asking McIlroy a question during a press conference at a tournament in the Far East last year.
According to Twitter followers, however, the pair’s activity in the social media scene has been noticeably quiet over the past week or so, raising speculation that McIlroy telling reporters that he was in a “bad place mentally” as he left Palm Beach Gardens is connected with things happening off the course.
Last week, Wozniacki was questioned about her future with the 23-year-old Northern Irishman. Asked if there were any marriage plans on the cards, the Dane replied: “I think that question will be for him to answer.” When asked if she would accept if McIlroy proposed, she was reported to have laughingly brushed off the question, saying: “This is getting personal.”
McIlroy’s walk-off was his first withdrawal from a tournament as a professional but came after he lost in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship to Shane Lowry and missed the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship in his first event since signing an equipment deal with Nike.
It seems a tall order for him to recapture his best form in this week’s WGC event, which sees Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Scott Jamieson flying the Saltire at Donald Trump’s Miami resort. However, McIlroy dismisses the idea his form is down to his change in equipment.
“The driver and the ball took some time to get used to, but I had weeks at Nike before the start of the year, and I feel comfortable with all the equipment,” he said. “The problem is, I’m bringing the club too upright on the backswing then dropping it in too much on the downswing.”
He has admitted, however, that he needs to adopt a tougher approach and would do well to copy Tiger Woods. “He might be the best athlete ever, in terms of his ability to grind it out,” said McIlroy. “I could have a bit more of that, if I’m honest.”