In some sense, the developing "Toothachegate" saga is much ado about very little. However, when the No. 1 golfer in the world walks off the course under somewhat suspicious circumstances, rampant speculation is the predictable result.
Do we, the ever-critical golfing public, give McIlroy a pass for his post hoc story about his "sore wisdom tooth" and being "unable to concentrate?"
In order to answer that, an examination of the facts as we know them is in order.
McIlroy was seven over through his first eight holes yesterday, playing the back nine at PGA National. After hitting his second shot into the water on the 18th hole, the golfer announced he was done, shook hands with his playing partner and walked off the golf course.
It seems the only contact he had with reporters before exiting the facility was telling the three reporters who were following him, "I'm not in a great place mentally. I can't really say much, guys. I'm just in a bad place mentally."
As the AP's Doug Ferguson reports, "In the parking lot, McIlroy was asked three times if anything was wrong physically and he said no. Golfweek magazine reported he was near tears."
A short while later he released a statement—which has already been quoted at length on our website, so I won't reproduce it here in its entirety— that cited the aforementioned wisdom tooth pain and resultant detrimental effects on his concentration as the reason for his withdrawal.
This is where the established story ends and speculation begins.
There are two basic explanations for what happened at PGA National yesterday, both imbued with a healthy amount of conjecture. However, to answer the question "Does Rory deserve a pass?" you have to adopt one of the following positions.
Mental Fatigue and Frustration Primarily Inspired the Withdrawal
Certainly, the 23-year-old has a few things going on in his life and is dealing with just a bit of pressure at the moment.
Without getting into the specifics of each, McIlroy is (at least) dealing with the pressure of the switch to Nike equipment (and the pressure to prove he can still play as expected with said equipment), his elevated visibility in the pantheon of celebrity and popular culture, the firing of his manager Chubby Chandler and, more immediately, the fact that he was playing atrociously and was sure to miss the cut at the Honda.
It's easy to sympathize with the struggling wunderkind, but pulling out of a golf tournament mid-round is entirely unacceptable and reeks of quitterdom, which is entirely unacceptable in any professional sport.
Further, if such is the case, then the narrative about the toothache is likely a fiction fabricated when McIlroy's handlers realized that the young golfer ought to have a medical problem (which required attention) or serious personal emergency (which being in a "bad place mentally" is not) to explain his withdrawal, in order to avoid tour scrutiny for not withdrawing for accepted reasons.
This, of course, makes giving the golfer a pass even less warranted.
The Toothache Is Legitimate, but McIlroy Failed to Mention It Initially
Perhaps what McIlroy meant by being in a "bad place mentally" was simply that a severe toothache was affecting his concentration and that he was in such a state that he failed to mention it to reporters or didn't want to mention it.
Alternatively, he may have been kindly rebuffing reporters, saying, essentially, “I’m upset about having to withdraw because of my toothache and don’t want to talk about it right now.”
A lot of people are lowballing the pain McIlroy could be feeling as a result of an issue with one of his wisdom teeth (I've seen a lot of references to Bobby Baun on Twitter). Assuming McIlroy was in legitimate pain, I'm not going to make any judgment about the magnitude of his subjective discomfort.
However, If McIlroy was in severe pain that dramatically affected his concentration (his score certainly supports the possibility), then quitting is moderately understandable; although, I don't believe it to be an acceptable course of action.
Regardless of where the truth lies, Rory McIlroy may deserve a degree of sympathy. He does not, however, deserve a pass.