Ernie Els wishes he had taken a mulligan on the 18th hole at PGA National and urged Rory McIlroy to stay the course on Friday instead of letting him withdraw from the Honda Classic without urging him to reconsider his rash action.
“We didn’t try to talk him out of it,” Els, one of McIlroy’s playing partners during the two-time major winner’s ill-fated second round, told reporters Tuesday ahead of this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship. “But I must say, when I shook his hand on 18 I wanted to say something and I didn’t and I kind of regret that.”
Els, 43, noted that when he was McIlroy’s age he did a lot of “silly things” that would put the 23-year-old’s decision to quit the tourney midway through his second round to shame. Still, the reigning British Open titleholder echoed comments Tiger Woods made last week about how McIlroy should handle himself.
“He’s done nothing compared to what I did,” Els said. “But when it comes to being where he’s at [No. 1 in the world], you’ve got to maybe think a little bit more than two minutes.”
Immediately upon leaving the course after putting his drive in the water on No. 18, his ninth hole of the day, McIlroy said his head was not in the game. He later blamed a painful wisdom tooth for his untimely exit.
McIlroy has since admitted he regretted his withdrawal, telling Sports Illustrated that his walkout was “not the right thing to do.”
Els had a priceless response to a question about whether he might have considered not even teeing it up to start the round if he were suffering similar pain.
“I think I would have taken a shit load of Advil,” the 19-time PGA Tour winner said to laughter.
Els, who was top-ranked in 1998, made light of the situation, but also addressed the issue, which women’s golf’s top player Yani Tseng has also raised, of the pressures inherent with being the top dog.
“You’re kind of the leader of the pack and in a way you have to act accordingly,” he said. “You have to show that you’re No. 1.
“There’s a lot of guys out there who want to be where you are,” he added. “You’ve got to be the No. 1 player and with that there comes a lot of work and with that there’s a lot of stress put on your shoulders.
“You’re a guy walking out with a lot more pressure than the guy that’s 50th in the world, I can promise you,” said Els, who observed that a win this week by the young Ulsterman would put the Honda situation firmly in the rear-view mirror.
"In a couple years time we wont even think about this, talk about this,” Els said. “It will be history and that's what it should be. It’s something that’s happened and we should move on from there.
“He’s a great kid, he’s a great player and if he admits he’s made a mistake that’s that,” Els added. “Let’s move on.”