Wednesday, March 06, 2013




First hurdle cleared, 72 remaining. Rory McIlroy had little difficulty fixing his PR here on Wednesday but starting at 11.53am (4.53pm GMT) at the World Golf Championship Cadillac Championship on Thursday he has four rounds to repair a far more relevant problem. The world No1 is not daft; he knows the order in which it will happen. Mend the swing, post the results, resume his role as the game’s darling. It is the rhythm that matters, not the blues. In golf, as in all of sport, winning solves everything.

In the last week McIlroy has, through his own petulance, been forced to deal with a blaze of negative publicity. He walked off mid-round while defending his title at the Honda Classic, first telling journalists he was “mentally not in the right place” and then releasing a statement claiming it was because of a sore wisdom tooth.
McIlroy was seven over at the time and was duly ridiculed, first as a quitter and second a quitter who could not admit it. For many, it would be a tricky problem to negotiate. Not McIlroy.
 First, he issued an apology to a friendly American journalist on Sunday, and then he walked into the packed media centre here to expand on his contriteness. It was an impressive display, only marred by a stupid joke with an Irish pop star.
For some reason he and Ronan Keating have found it funny to sign off their tweets with “#FTB” in the last few days. Keating has a tattoo on his left wrist reading “F--- The Begrudgers”. McIlroy dismissed it as “just a private joke between friends”. McIlroy has 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Only a tiny minority would begrudge him anything.
There will be fewer still after he poured out his heart. He was helped by a media official who cracked the tension by kicking off the proceedings thus: “Right Rory, let’s get straight to the matter in the hand. How disappointed were you with the Manchester United score last night?” As laughter filled the room, the United fan saw his chance.
“It wasn’t a red card [for Nani],” McIlroy said. “But I gave myself a red card last week.”
From there, the mea culpa came naturally.
“No matter how I was playing I should have stayed out there, tried to shoot the best possible score, even though it wouldn’t have been enough to make the cut,” he said. “I saw red, I was all over the place. I regret it, it won’t happen again.”
And so it continued. “I learnt that when the going gets tough, I’ve got to stick with it and grind it out. There’s no excuse for quitting. It doesn’t set a good example for the kids watching me, trying to emulate what I do. I let a lot of people down and for that I am very sorry.”
His honesty will come at a cost. In acknowledging that his dental pain did not justify his withdrawal, it is almost certain that the US PGA Tour will issue a fine. 
“The tooth was bothering me, but it probably wasn’t bothering me enough to quit,” McIlroy said.
He then explained that he would be on medication to mask the pain until he found the time to visit his Belfast dentist for treatment. That probably will not be until after the US Open in June.
Where will McIlroy be by then? Will he and his coach, Michael Bannon, have sorted out the technical troubles which are occurring when he takes back the club? Will all the criticisms of his £78 million switch to Nike clubs have dried up? Will he be back to the form of 2012 which saw him win five times, including a major?
First things first. McIlroy acknowledges he must rid himself of that frustration which produced the mist. The 23-year-old has a habit of turning negatives into positives – see the 80 he carded at the Masters in 2011 – and feels he can in this regard.
“I think Friday [when he withdrew] can be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It was like it released a valve and all that pressure that I’ve been putting on myself just went away. And I was like, just go out there and have fun. It’s not life and death out there – it’s only a game. I had sort of forgotten that this year.”
To be fair, it would have been easy to, what with the likes of Sir Nick Faldo wondering aloud whether the change of equipment would wreck his sweet, sweet motion. McIlroy still cannot bring himself to agree publicly with the notion that his alliance with the Swoosh had a damaging effect on his confidence. But in private he can, if only because of the extra wattage in that spotlight shining on his form.
“We all make mistakes, but mine are made in public,” he said. McIlroy will be painfully aware that this applies to his golf, as well as his behaviour.
With this in mind he will try to freewheel around the Blue Monster this week, as he sets out with Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, second and third in the world respectively. Regardless of the media frenzy surrounding the group, McIlroy is determined to play with a smile and only a limited ambition.
“I’m not putting any pressure on myself this week to perform,” he said. “I just want to get my swing in the right position.”
Having spent approximately 35 hours on the range with Bannon since Friday, he believes the old swing is back. “We have found it, but it feels very alien to me right now,” McIlroy said.
The good thing is this event has no cut and thus, withdrawals notwithstanding, he will play four rounds. He is plainly desperate for the competition.
This year he has finished only 80 holes, which comprised a missed cut at Abu Dhabi, a first-round exit at the World Matchplay and the Honda wander.
McIlroy has only this event and the Houston Open scheduled before The Masters in five weeks’ time. Time and timing truly are of the essence.



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