Call him temperamental. Say his Irish is showing. But don't accuse McIlroy of being the only world-class golfer to leave a golf course mid-round or mid-tournament, whether out of frustration or injury. Or even toothache.
Tiger Woods withdrew from The Players on the sixth hole with neck problems. It was probably the media's fault. Goodness knows we are a pain in a lot of body parts. He also withdrew from the WGC Cadillac with an Achilles twinge or two.
I've been told that keeping a twinge in reserve is always a good idea if you are a professional athlete. If McIlroy, now being called R-MAC, had cited a twinge in his back after hitting the ball in the water on the 18th hole, which was his ninth, no one would have questioned it. A twinge is perfectly acceptable, particularly if you've ever had a back problem, even for just a day.
The late and legendary sportswriter Jim Murray wrote that Tom Weiskopf once got flu in the sand trap on No. 2 at Riviera. Murray said Weiskopf was lying four at the time and was looking at a double or triple bogey.
"That'll give you flu every time. Double-bogeys are a leading cause of flu on the tour," Murray wrote. "Tommy just walked out of the trap and into his car and out of there. A 'WD' is a sure cure for flu."
But the best ever WD was probably Bobby Jones at St. Andrews in the 1921 British Open.
St. Andrews, if you've never been there, has bunkers that sneak up on you. They are hiding behind a gorse bush or they just appear, like sinkholes, when you least expect them. You are walking along one, two, three and plop! You've dropped completely into a bunker. It's a wonder there aren't medic stands at every green to pick up the wounded.
Back to Jones. He was playing along during his first competitive visit to the Old Course, and found himself in a bunker on the 11th hole, a par three. The bunkers on the 11th basically stand between humanity and par.
Like most bunkers at St. Andrews, they have revetted faces, which are built by stacking sod in brick-like style, row-by-row to achieve a straight surface up. Standing in them, you look at a wall of stacked sod. If you are in there, you have to play out of it.
Jones was 19 years old, and the Next Big Thing. Yet he found himself well below the surface of the green in either the Hill or the Strath Bunker (depending on the source—both good ones) and after taking either three or four swings at the ball (again depending on whose account you believe) he picked up, put his ball in pocket and that was it for him in the tournament.
Some say he tore up his scorecard. Others say he played in with the group. Regardless, he quit playing. Regarding walking in, the 11th is just about the farthest point on the golf course, and so he would have had to walk back nine holes to the clubhouse.
The local press supposedly wrote: "Master Bobby is just a boy, and an ordinary boy at that."
McIlroys departure was less glamorous, but equally noticed, including by fellow golfers who were more inclined to give McIlroy the benefit of the doubt.
"I was going nuts on 18 there on the rules official, because we had mud on the ball," Ernie Els recalled. "Then I think he ( McIlroy) hit his shot first. He hit it in the water, and then I followed him in there. I was dropping my ball and I realized he wasn't dropping his ball. I thought maybe his ball crossed further up. When I hit my third or fourth shot, he just came up and said, here's my card, I'm out of here."
Els followed up, "You know, the rules of play, you can walk off at any time. Obviously something was seriously bothering him, and he was not going to make the cut and probably didn't want to continue playing that way. I've played like that before. It's embarrassing. You don't want to be out there while you feel like, get me out of here."
Els recalled being plus-10 or plus-11 at the German Masters one year and said on the 36th hole, he hit in a hazard, took a couple shots in the hazard and walked off the course and into the tent.
He also defended R-MACs equipment changes.
"We've all made equipment changes before," Els added. "You know, such a talented player, he'll get it figured out."
"I've done it a couple times just because I was injured. I just couldn't go," Tiger Woods said. "I hurt my wrist one time at the U.S. Open as an amateur. Last year I pulled out at Doral."
"Yeah, I've withdrawn before," Lee Westwood said. "It's a fine line, really, and a difficult decision to make. You don't really want to withdraw, but if you're injured, you know, you're probably going to do the injury more damage. You know, if you're over par, people are going to look, oh, he took the easy way out. But if you're injured, you're injured, and you have to pull out. There's always another week."
"He wasn't playing the way the world No. 1 plays normally," Mark Wilson said about McIlroy's round. "Didn't hit the ball where he wanted to, and he's a true gentleman, though. It's not like he was really‑‑ 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."
Wilson said McIlroy handed him the scorecard and said he was going in. "I wasn't about to ask him (why), either," Wilson said.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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