Rory McIlroy, whose unforced early exit from last year’s PGA Tour tilt in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sparked a firestorm of criticism aimed at the two-time major champion, hopes to tidy up some "unfinished business" when he returns to the Honda Classic later this month.
"I really can't wait to get back to the Honda," the seventh-ranked golfer in the world said in a statement on Monday about the February 27-March 2 tourney at PGA National. "It is one of my favorite events of the year, and winning in 2012 was an important landmark in my career."
McIlroy withdrew from his title defense just eight holes into his second round, blaming a poor mental attitude before settling on a toothache as the culprit for his premature walk-off. Rampant reprobation ensued, forcing the then-No. 1 to apologize for his "mistake," and promise it would never happen again.
Simmering vexation over a lackluster start to his 2013 season boiled over at the Honda after McIlroy missed the cut at the European Tour’s season-opening Abu Dhabi Championship and failed to make it past the first round of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play.
McIlroy, who will also give it another go at match play in Arizona in two weeks, has played far better of late than he did during a nightmarish 2013 campaign in which he went winless. He beat reigning Masters champion Adam Scott by a stroke at the Australian Open and could have won in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago but for a two-shot penalty he called "stupid."
He was in position to triumph at the Dubai Desert Classic until a final-round 74 (and the presence of fiancé Caroline Wozniacki inside the ropes, according to a number of pundits), as well as winner Stephen Gallacher’s third-round 63 knocked him back into a tie for ninth.
"It was just one of those days," McIlroy said after signing for a final-round score that included four bogeys and two birdies. "Anything that sort of could go wrong did."
It is certainly difficult to imagine, as some have opined, McIlroy going court-side to offer advice to his tennis-playing betrothed in the middle of a match. And his game appeared to be pretty sharp until, according to observers, Wozniacki began her final-round stroll-and-chat with the young Ulsterman.
But the tongue-waggers blaming Rory’s Yoko Ono for his downfall may want to rewind back to the 2012 Deutsche Bank Championship, where the then-boy wonder got off to a sizzling 6-under 65 start and went on to post a week-long 20-under and win by a stroke -- all under the admiring eye of the omnipresent Wozniacki.
"It’s great," McIlroy told SB Nation at the time about having his other half on-site after she bombed out of the first round of the 2012 U.S. Open in New York. "Obviously, I’d still love her to be in New York playing, but it’s great to have her here, it’s great to have her support."
With Wozniacki in tow, McIlroy also seemed to bear up amazingly well for three of the four rounds (63, 70, 69) he put up in the Emirates.
Fair warning, though, to McIlroy, who heard non-stop catcalls last season after joining Tiger Woods at Nike to start his campaign. He had better keep up the solid play or he could be in line for rip jobs aimed at his newly ripped self.
Just about to hit the gym, sometimes we need a reminder why we go in there and push ourselves... Here's mine... pic.twitter.com/AuC3zf0Gut— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) February 4, 2014
Woods, a long-time workout wizard who revolutionized the way golfers train, recently came under scrutiny for bulking up too much. McIlroy, with his future wife as his biggest fan, could be in for much of the same if his game goes south.
.@McIlroyRory haha! A lot has changed since that run in Monaco 2.5 years ago