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Give Rory time and he'll be just fine

ESPN staff
March 6, 2013


The one thing everyone can seem to agree on - McIlroy himself, his friend Tiger Woods, those who know him in the media, and even those watching around the world - is that Rory McIlroy would not have withdrawn from the Honda Classic had he taken even a few more minutes to think about it.

The Northern Irishman's walk-off, as he approached the halfway stage of his second round at the notoriously difficult PGA National well down the field and even further over-par, was a spur-of-the-moment decision, an immature call made in a fit of pique.

There may be some truth to the wisdom tooth 'reason' that McIlroy has subsequently circulated - with varying vehemence - in the aftermath but the reality is it is a red herring, an excuse to cover the obvious truth.

McIlroy was playing terribly, and so McIlroy had had enough.

"It was a reactive decision," the man himself told Sports Illustrated, in an exclusive intended to temper the barrage of questions he will face when he meets the media ahead of the WGC Cadillac Championship on Wednesday. "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.

"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."

Once again, you wonder what exactly the point of JP Fitzgerald, McIlroy's caddie, really is. At some stage it has to get embarrassing, dutifully following the orders of your 23-year-old master - even when they are borne out of base-level immaturity.

A better caddie, or at least a less cowed one, would surely have pressed McIlroy more on his intention to walk off - and would perhaps have made him see sense by reminding him of the furore it would cause.

At 23, McIlroy has achieved and seen more than almost every one of his contemporaries, giving him the aura of maturity that has helped him in his prior dealings with other players, the press and commercial partners.

But perhaps he has not matured in every way - never having really struggled with his game, perhaps he has never really learned to deal with the white-hot fury that descends when things are not going your way on the course.

Last Friday will hopefully have taught him a lesson in that regard. The question now, then, is whether he can turn around his game in time to be competitive this week at the WGC event in Miami.

His swing is clearly in some form of disarray. McIlroy's best friend on tour, Graeme McDowell, admitted that last week on the range that the youngster was not giving his usual display of "flushery". The caddie of his playing partner at the Honda, Mark Wilson, suggested the Northern Irishman's head was dropping "about a foot" during the downswing.

McIlroy himself believes his swing is all out of kilter. The winter move to Nike may have served as the catalyst for the breakdown, but the clubs are not solely to blame. Tiger Woods has won plenty of majors using Nike equipment - once McIlroy adjusts, they will not prevent him adding to his two major titles.

Rory McIlroy was left despairing at his game on Friday © Getty Images
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"The driver and the ball took some time to get used to, but I had weeks at Nike before the start of the year, and I feel comfortable with all the equipment," McIlroy reiterated this week. "The problem is, I'm bringing the club too upright on the backswing then dropping it in too much on the downswing."

McIlroy has always been very much a 'feel' golfer - going on-and-off the boil more than once in a season as he loses and rediscovers his sweetspot. It has harmed his consistency, but equally helped him to reach heights other, more robotic golfers can only dream of discovering. The change of clubs has perhaps knocked him out of kilter more than usual, but it would be a surprise if he does not rediscover his preferred swing sooner rather than later.

Tiger Woods was a similar type of golfer when he first emerged on tour - until he decided to completely overhaul his swing in search of something more easily-repeatable. The result was the famous 'Tiger Slam', but even then the American was not happy, continuing to remodel his swing as his career has matured.

Perhaps that is a route McIlroy will one day need to consider, but there should be no rush. Hours on the range, and a few confidence-inspiring rounds in competition, should get him back to a more acceptable level for the main part of the season (although The Masters may come too soon).

Woods - at least before injuries began to hold him back - is famous for another trait, of course.

He never gives up.

"He might be the best athlete ever, in terms of his ability to grind it out," McIlroy noted. "I could have a bit more of that, if I'm honest."

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