PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. (AP) - Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green at PGA National last year and shared a big hug with his father after winning the Honda Classic to reach No. 1 in the world for the first time.
His departure Friday was nothing like that.
Hands in his pockets, he waited short of the green to tell Ernie Els and Mark Wilson that they would have to finish the second round by themselves. McIlroy was 7-over par through eight holes, on his way to another short week, and it was time for him to leave.
He walked off the green and kept going, around the golf shops, out to the parking lot and into his car. And just like that, he was gone.
The reason behind his abrupt departure remained a subject of debate.
“There’s not really much I can say, guys,” McIlroy told three reporters who followed him out to their car. “I’m not in a good place mentally, you know?”
They asked three times if there was anything wrong physically, and he said there was not. When asked about his swing, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland brushed off the question by saying, “Yeah, I really don’t know what’s going on.”
But an hour later, he released a statement through his management company that he couldn’t concentrate because of a sore wisdom tooth that needs to come out.
“I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future,” McIlroy said. “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.”
This much can be said for Boy Wonder.
With the Masters just more than a month away, McIlroy has played only 80 holes this year. He missed the cut in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship with rounds of 75-75. After a four-week break, he was eliminated in the first round of the Match Play Championship after a sloppy performance against Shane Lowry. And after opening with a 70 that gave no cause of alarm on Thursday, he was done eight holes later.
“His demeanor looks a little different,” said Graeme McDowell, one of his best friends. “I felt like he was a little off with his golf swing on the range. There were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me. It’s normally a display. It’s normally a clinic. It’s superlatives coming from the coach and the caddie. That’s the sign of a guy who’s lacking a little technique in his swing and a little belief in his game.”
McIlroy is still scheduled to play next week at Doral, and he could have some explaining to do.
Bad play is one thing. The question was whether McIlroy showed bad manners by leaving early, and while one person truly understands the level of pain or discomfort, it was enough to raise questions by his peers.