Rory McIlroy walked off PGA National during Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic after playing just eight of his first nine holes. He was seven over par at the time and had hit his second shot on No. 18 into the water bordering the right side of the fairway.
He was staring certain bogey or worse straight in the face, which would have given him a 43 or 44 on the scorecard for his first nine holes in the second round of the Honda Classic.
McIlroy posted a first round of even-par 70 on Thursday but was not happy with his play. His iron play was not sharp, which necessitated several spectacular ups and downs to save pars.
After an extended offseason in which he signed a mega-contract with Nike to use their equipment, balls and wardrobe, he has struggled to regain the world-class form that he showed in 2012.
Switching one or two clubs for a professional is a big change. Completely switching the driver, putter and ball is a huge deal. McIlroy is trying to consolidate the new equipment into his game and gain the confidence that it will perform under pressure.
Thus far, that experiment has failed miserably.
The Honda Classic was only the third tournament of the year for the world No. 1. He missed the cut in Abu Dhabi with two consecutive rounds of 75.
Last week, McIlroy was unceremoniously knocked out of the WGC-Accenture Match Play in the first round by the No. 64 seed, Shane Lowry.
His first round 70 at the Honda was only his fourth competitive round of the year and his first round at or near par.
After a missed chip shot early in Friday’s round, McIlroy demonstrated an unusual amount of emotion by slamming his wedge into the fringe. He is normally calm and carefree during a round of competitive golf and does not let an errant shot bother him.
He pumped two balls into the water on No. 16 and took a triple-bogey seven. That is certainly enough to make anyone’s teeth hurt.
His second shot finding the water on No. 18 (his ninth hole) appeared to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He slammed his club back into his bag, acknowledged his playing partners, Ernie Els and Mark Wilson, walked directly to his car and left the golf course.
Evidently, enough is enough.
It is certainly not unusual for professional golfers to withdraw from tournaments. It is unusual for the world’s No. 1 golfer to withdraw in a momentary fit of rage over a missed shot.
The tournament sponsor Honda loses a very large draw for prospective tournament attendees. Fans who watch golf at home on their televisions expect to see McIlroy fill up their flat screens.
The PGA Tour has tried to build up a reputation over the years of portraying professional golfers as diligent, hard-working individuals who take a certain pride in their craft.
Walking off the golf course in the middle of one’s round does not perpetuate that image.
The media is in love with McIlroy. He says all the right things, spends time with them and gives interesting interviews. He is young, good looking and talented.
His $200 million contract with Nike, ascension to No. 1 in the world and highly public relationship with tennis star and lingerie model Caroline Wozniacki have made him front page news wherever he goes.
Being the main attraction week in and week out can be draining, especially when you are not playing particularly well.
Just ask Tiger Woods. Does anyone remember the club-kicking incident on No. 16 tee in the 2012 Masters?
McIlroy showed everyone on Friday that he is human after all. He has been a child prodigy. Watching him win majors and beat the best players in the world, we tend to forget that he is just a 23-year-old kid.
He wants to perform well for his new sponsor and golf fans, and he certainly does not want to be a distraction for his playing partners.
McIlroy has built up a ton of good will over the past several years with the golf media.
He will be at the top of discussion boards and on the front pages for this lapse in golf etiquette, but good play next week at Doral or a Masters win will erase this little episode from memory in the future.
He will have some explaining to do during his press conference next week at Doral, and a hefty fine is probably headed his way from the PGA Tour Commissioner’s office.
In the end, everyone wants to see the kid move on and get back to winning golf tournaments.