Rory McIlroy, Golf's Heir Apparent, Getting a Pass Tiger Woods Never Would

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterMarch 7, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 06:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland addresses the media ahead of the WGC - Cadillac Championship at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa on March 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy quit. But for some odd reason, he's now enjoying something of a get-out-of-scrutiny free pass.  

Golf fans were just about ready to hand the crown that comes with being the sport's next royal king to Rory McIlroy, well ahead of Tiger Woods limping into retirement.

His recent mental meltdown at the Honda Classic guarantees the transition won't be as smooth as we once thought. 

On Friday, McIlroy showed that he is not that young, fearless golfer who we thought he might be. He, like every athlete, has to answer for the stress and pressure of life in the spotlight. 

It's how the media has handled his blunder that mystifies me. 

He walked off last week at the Honda Classic, originally stating he wasn't in the right frame of mind but later citing severe tooth pain as the impetus for the bizarre departure. 

On Monday, he went in depth about walking off, which really should yield far more scrutiny than it has.

Here is what he had to say via ESPN

I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing, I should have stayed out there. I should have tried to shoot the best score possible even though it probably wasn't going to be good enough to make the cut.

At that point in time, I was just all over the place, I saw red, it was a mistake and everyone makes mistakes and I'm learning from them. Some people have the pleasure of making mistakes in private. Most of my mistakes are in the public eye.

While I agree that we hold the sport's elite to a higher standard, it's adulation that comes in tandem with their tremendous talent. 

While in some respects it's unfair, it's his last quote that points to what really went down at the Honda Classic.

"Yeah, look, my tooth was bothering me, but it wasn't bothering me enough to quit."

Having a sport dominated by a select few is a luxury we tend to savor. It makes things far less messy if we can point to Michael Jordan and say, "That, kids, is what you are shooting for."

Tiger Woods ripped that label from the pantheon of greats before him but fell on the kind of rocky times that has been covered for the past few years ad nauseam. 

And that's the point. Where is the dissection of Rory McIlroy's blunder?

There are those who cover the sport who are ready to look the other way as the pressure of the game's best becomes too great. 

Here are CBSSports.com columnist Mike Freeman and Sports Illustrated writer Jim Trotter joining Jim Rome, echoing the popular "I am ready to give him one pass" mantra. 

Golf.com's Brandel Chamblee thinks we should give the young man a pass, too. He makes a great point that since 1988, four No. 1 players have walked away from tournaments. All, however, were for physical ailments. 

Greg Norman from the 1988 U.S. Open with a sore wrist, Ernie Els from the ’98 Barclays with back spasms, Tiger Woods from the ’06 Northern Trust with the flu and again from the ’10 Players with a neck injury.

Chamblee doesn't recall any criticism launched their way at the time. I would counter that leaving for physical maladies is far different than for a mental avalanche, which is what seems to have happened here. 

Woods, as we well know, has had his critics. 

There was even enough time to blast him with vitriol when he threw his club at the Masters last year, which was covered by the NY Daily News, Daily Mail and many others.

Even Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel offered that the brief temper tantrum in April was cause to write Woods off completely for not having the mindset to usurp Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships.

He went so far as to write this portion, which really could have described McIlroy on Friday. 

Tiger was mentally weak Friday, though. He was too focused on reacting to his poor shots, delivering over-the-top scenes of anger and moping around the back nine like he was being persecuted.

So are we ready to write off McIlroy as the next Woods for melting down in a similar manner, albeit on a smaller scale? 

As ESPN notes, McIlroy is having a rough go of things this year: He missed the cut at Abu Dhabi and exited after the first round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, to name a couple. 

For Woods, such depressing play followed by what amounts to quitting would have riled up a firestorm of coverage. The media would have questioned his health, heart and drive—much as they have before. 

Now, we have Rory McIlroy skipping out on a tournament when things didn't go his way. 

While McIlroy is in the early years of what I still believe will be a remarkable career, we have to hold him to the same athletic scrutiny we do the other "best players in sport."

It's true that we scrutinize the bigger names down to the minutiae of their personalities. Fair or not, it's what transpires along the more remarkable of careers. 

If we are so worried about the character of our athletes, when did we stop questioning their mental fortitude?

McIlroy is 24 years old, so it makes sense there will be a maturation process. Just let me know when we are ready to hold him to the same standard as others. As hypotheticals go, how would we react to Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady quitting on their teams?

If they haven't used their one pass, I guess they should be fine, right?

McIlroy is getting a free pass for stepping out on fans, sponsors and those who have the highest of hopes for his career. He apologized and we should be done with this latest episode. 

However, just as every last round that follows Woods through his career serves as a chapter to tell his story as a whole, this too will follow McIlroy, shaping his very legacy. 

And it should, for good and bad. 

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