Rory McIlroy acknowledged, in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger, that he should never have walked off the course in the middle of the second round of last week’s Honda Classic.
"It was a reactive decision," he said in a telephone interview Sunday night about his departure after hitting his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th hole, his ninth of the day.
Instead of taking his balls and bats and heading home, McIlroy said the right course of action would have been to stick it out and accept the outcome, which would have likely been his second missed cut of the season.
"What I should have done is take my drop, chip it on, try to make a five and play my hardest on the back nine, even if I shot 85,” he said. "What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me -- it was not the right thing to do."
McIlroy was playing poorly and exhibiting frustration before telling his playing partners he was done after shooting 7-over through eight holes. He immediately told reporters he was having a tough time mentally and followed that up with a statement blaming a sore wisdom tooth.
For sure, McIlroy’s actions were not in character with how he had handled adversity in the past. He injured his right wrist early into the first round of the 2011 PGA Championship but gutted it out to a T64th-place outcome.
He also famously fell to pieces on the back nine of the 2011 Masters, so much so that television cameras could not bear to broadcast his crash-and burn. Entering the final round with a four-shot lead, he completed the round, finishing with an 80, 10 shots back of winner Charl Schwartzel.
Though the world No. 1 has taken a lot of heat for his rash decision to quit mid-round, he is likely to earn back much if not most of the good will he has captured since rebounding from his Masters meltdown to win the U.S. Open in record fashion.
In the meantime, rumors have been rampant that his on-course struggles had less to do with his new Nike clubs or toothaches and were more about problems in his love life. Indeed, the Irish media was full of speculation that he was suffering more from a broken romance with Caroline Wozniacki than with frustrating attempts to break in his new sticks.
McIlroy, whom Jack Nicklaus reprimanded for his early exit from last week’s PGA Tour event, may face a few questions about his love life when he sits down with reporters on Wednesday ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Classic, though we expect scribes will focus on his well-documented struggles with new golf gear. He reportedly promised to address the circumstances of his mysterious WD during his pre-event presser -- but that was before reports questioning the state of the young Ulsterman’s love life gained steam.
The Independent said McIlroy had “seemed distracted and in melancholy” on Thursday. The publication then pointed to a decidedly scaled-back Twitter repartee between golf’s usually chatty No. 1 and the formerly top-ranked tennis star as the smoking gun in its investigation into what was wrong in Wozzilroy World.
The SI report would appear to refute such gossip. McIlroy, Bamberger said, spoke several times to Wozniacki over the weekend and was avoiding Twitter so he did not have to read what people were saying about his situation.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland may also have heard directly from his friend and boyhood idol, Tiger Woods. He said he should attempt to mimic Woods in his ability to keep plugging away even when he does not have his A game.
"He might be the best athlete ever, in terms of his ability to grind it out," McIlroy said. "I could have a bit more of that, if I'm honest."
McIlroy is slated to meet the press on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. ET at Doral.