PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Whether his pain was mental or dental, Rory McIlroy walked off the course in the middle of his round Friday at the Honda Classic and invited even more scrutiny of golf's No. 1 player.
McIlroy already was 7-over par through eight holes when he hit his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th and didn't bother hitting another shot. He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson, turned in his scorecard and walked straight to the parking lot.
McIlroy told three reporters who followed him that he's "not in a good place mentally."
An hour later, his management company issued a statement that the 23-year-old McIlroy couldn't concentrate because of a sore wisdom tooth.
His abrupt departure only added to the sloppy start to his young season, and raised concerns with the Masters just more than a month away. In three tournaments, he has missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and withdrew after 26 holes at PGA National.
"His demeanor looks a little different," said Graeme McDowell, one of his best friends. "I felt like he was a little off with his golf swing on the range. There were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me. It's normally a display. It's normally a clinic. It's superlatives coming from the coach and the caddie. That's the sign of a guy who's lacking a little technique in his swing and a little belief in his game."
In the parking lot, McIlroy was asked three times if anything was wrong physically and he said no. Golfweek magazine reported he was near tears.
"There's not really much I can say, guys," McIlroy said. "I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?"
Els also hit into the water on the 18th and was complaining to a rules official about the muddy conditions of the fairway when he figured out McIlroy was through.
"I was dropping my ball and I realized he wasn't dropping his ball," Els said. "I thought maybe his ball crossed further up (the hazard). When I hit my fourth shot, he just came up and said, 'Here's my card. I'm out of here.'"
McIlroy, who last year won the Honda Classic to go to No. 1 in the world for the first time, apologized to the tournament for his "sudden withdrawal."
"I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future," McIlroy said. "It began bothering me again last night, so I relieved it with Advil. It was very painful again this morning, and I was simply unable to concentrate. It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners."
He was seen eating a sandwich on the 18th fairway.
"I'm a great fan of Rory's, but I don't think that was the right thing to do," Els said.
Told about McIlroy's statement about the sore wisdom tooth, Els softened his stance, not wanting to judge another player's pain.
"I didn't see anything, but if he had a toothache, that's what it is, you know?" Els said. "Hey, it's tough. If you ask him how he's feeling now, he's obviously feeling terrible for what's happened this morning."
"I didn't notice anything," Wilson said. "He wasn't playing the way the world No. 1 plays normally. Didn't hit the ball where he wanted to, and he's a true gentleman, though. He ... 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."
Tiger Woods understand better than anyone in golf what it's like to have every move judged, though for Woods it started not long after he turned pro in 1996.
"You've just got to ... think about it a little bit more before you say something or do something," Woods said. " It can get out of hand, especially when you get into social media and start tweeting and all those different things that can go wrong. Jokingly saying something doesn't always come off as saying that, even though the intent was different."
McIlroy, coming off a year in which he won a second major with a record, already set himself up for scrutiny when he left Titleist to sign an equipment deal with Nike that was said to be worth upward of $20 million a year. Instead of taking a long winter break, he spent much of December trying to adjust to his new clubs. McIlroy said Tuesday it wasn't the clubs; his swing was out of sorts.
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