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“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.

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