Rory McIlroy plans to smile more after what he called mounting pressure he put on himself led to a mid-round walkoff at last week’s Honda Classic.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” McIlroy said today during a televised press conference in Miami, site of this week’s Cadillac Championship. “I’m 23 years old. I’m still learning. I regret what I did. It’s over now and it won’t happen again.”
The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer was 7-over par through eight holes and had just hit his second shot of the ninth into the water on March 1 at the PGA National course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, when he informed playing partners Ernie Els and Mark Wilson that he was quitting the round.
McIlroy said he had been putting a lot of pressure on himself to have a strong start to 2013 after winning four events last season, including his second major title at the PGA Championship in August.
Before withdrawing from the Honda event after 26 holes, McIlroy missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with rounds of 75-75 and was eliminated in the first round of the U.S. PGA Tour’s Match Play Championship.
“I wanted to prove to myself that 2011 and 2012 were good years,” he said. “I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself. I’ve been working so hard and not getting much out of it. I just sort of let it all get to me.”
This week’s World Golf Championship tournament features a limited field of the top 65 players, based on the Official World Golf Ranking and other performance criteria. The purse is $8.8 million, including $1.4 million for the winner, with no cut for weekend play and a paycheck for everyone who completes the four rounds.
McIlroy, who was the defending champion at the Honda Classic, blamed his withdrawal at the time on pain from an impacted wisdom tooth. He said he has been taking a painkiller and plans to have the tooth extracted by his dentist back home in Northern Ireland after the U.S. Open in June.
“My tooth was bothering me, but it wasn’t bothering me enough to quit,” he said today. “I should have stayed out there and tried to shoot the best score possible.”
McIlroy said his early season problems were unrelated to his equipment change to Nike balls and clubs from Titleist.
“It’s purely the swing,” he said. “The equipment is fantastic. I have no problems at all. When I make a good swing, the ball goes where I want it to, so I know it’s not that.”
He also denied that his Honda withdrawal had anything to do with his relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, who lost to 186th-ranked Wang Qiang in the first round of the Malaysian Open a day before he quit the Honda.
“Just because I had a bad day on the golf course and Caroline loses a match in Malaysia, it doesn’t mean we’re breaking up,” he said.
His issues are more directly related to struggles with his swing and his attitude, McIlroy said.
“I started playing this game because I love it,” he said. “I have to remember that and go out there and enjoy myself and smile more. I learned that when the going gets tough, I’ve got to stick in there more and grind it out. There’s no excuse for quitting.”
The on-course meltdown followed McIlroy’s 2011 Masters Tournament performance, where he held a four-shot leading before a final-round 80 left him in 15th place. It was the highest final round of any third-round leader in Masters history.
McIlroy rebounded to win the U.S. Open two months later for his first major title. He said his struggles at last week’s event may have a similar impact on his game.
“I think in the long run, (withdrawing) will be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It sort of released a valve. It’s not life or death out there, it’s just a game. I had sort of lost sight of that this year.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at firstname.lastname@example.org