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Told about McIlroy’s statement about the sore wisdom tooth, Els softened his stance, not wanting to judge another player’s pain.

“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.”

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.”

Nike introduced McIlroy with blaring music and a laser show in Abu Dhabi, but it’s been all downhill from there.

“Even though my results haven’t revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner,” McIlroy said in his statement. “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.”

Tiger Woods understands 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.”

News travels fast these days, except to Luke Guthrie.

The PGA Tour rookie with a load talent is too young to worry about anything about his own golf, and he was thrilled with a 7-under 63 to take a one-shot lead over Michael Thompson going into the weekend. He didn’t find out about McIlroy until he walked through the doors of a ball room for an interview.

Woods had his own concerns, too. He rallied from a double bogey on his back nine to scratch out another 70 and make the cut on the number. He went into the weekend nine shots out of the lead, still hopeful that he can post something low on Saturday and get back into the tournament.

Among those within three shots of the lead were Geoff Ogilvy, Lee Westwood, Charles Howell III, Sean O’Hair and Justin Rose _ just about everyone, it seems, except McIlroy.