Monday, March 04, 2013


By JAMES CORRIGAN at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
If Rory McIlroy had hoped the controversy of his mid-round withdrawal here at the Honda Classic would die down he was sorely disappointed when Jack Nicklaus delivered his admonishment.
In fairness, the 18-time major-winner looked uncomfortable criticising the world No 1 for violating golf’s code of conduct. After all, he had come to the PGA National as the course designer to watch a finale eventually won by the unheralded American Michael Thompson.
There was no avoiding the issue of the week, particularly for Nicklaus. He has become something of a mentor to McIlroy and as his Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation is the tournament’s main beneficiary, he may have expected a call from the young Ulsterman explaining himself.
Nicklaus revealed he has yet to speak to McIlroy, who lives a few miles from the course. While he was keen to point out that he was not sure of the reasons for McIlroy pulling out after eight holes of his second round, his comments left little room for doubt concerning his feelings.
“He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course,“ Nicklaus said. “That was unfortunate. I think if he’d thought about it for five minutes he wouldn’t have done it. I just think he was just so frustrated with how he’s been playing the last month or so it just got to him. That would be my assessment, although I may be talking out of school.
Nobody would ever dare accuse Nicklaus of doing that; least of all McIlroy. The irony is that McIlroy practised at Nicklaus’s Bear’s Club over the weekend, under the gaze of his long-time coach Michael Bannon He will arrive in Miami on Monday for the WGC Cadillac Championship and will be keen to get tomorrow’s press conference over with.
Initially he told journalists he pulled out because of “being in a bad place mentally” but later via a statement he said it was because of a sore wisdom tooth. Apparently McIlroy will maintain he was in severe pain, but that he now wishes he had battled on.
If only he had listened to Ernie Els and Mark Wilson then he would, at the very least, have taken Nicklaus‘s five minutes of consideration.
Johnnie Miller, the two-time major champion, claimed that McIlroy’s playing partners urged him not to withdraw. The NBC analyst said: “I know the guys he was playing with told him ‘don’t walk off, you really don’t know the mess you’re causing’.”
Within a few hours McIlroy knew exactly what they meant. The social-media reaction was inevitably vitriolic. Els felt sympathy for his young friend, despite saying “it wasn’t the right thing to do”.
“Hopefully Rory doesn’t read too much into the bit of criticism that comes his way because it is par for the course for the No 1 player,” Els said.
If only McIlroy’s problems started and stopped with the withdrawal. Having signed for Nike in £78 million deal in January he has finished only 63 strokeplay holes. McIlroy denies feeling uncomfortable with his new clubs, but Nicklaus revealed he had talked to the player about his Nike insecurities.
“I saw Rory on Monday and we had a discussion,” Nicklaus said. “He told me he was struggling with his irons. I told him, ‘Don’t worry about your clubs; you’re too good and talented. And if you need to get something done about your clubs I’m sure Nike will do something’. But by the time The Masters comes around I’m sure Rory will be fine. He just has to move on.”
There can be no doubt McIlroy wants to. Three days on and it is still commanding the golfing discussion. That is where McIlroy finds himself – occupying the Tiger spotlight. On Sunday Woods could only shoot a 74 and at four-over finished 13 behind Thompson.
Nobody could have predicted this winner, the 11th American to prevail in succession on the US PGA Tour.
The 27-year-old’s best finish this year had been a tie for 78th. But with a superlative short-game display he skipped the field, his final-round 69 - one of only five players under par in windy conditions - earning him a nine-under total to win by two from the resurgent Australian Geoff Ogilvy.
Lee Westwood threatened to contend when he marched to within one after a birdie on the third. But back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth derailed his charge, before a bogey on the 18th saw him record a disappointing 74 to tie for ninth with Graeme McDowell.
It was left for Justin Rose and David Lynn to take top British honours, both finishing in a tie for fourth on three-under. Nobody scored lower over the weekend than Lynn (68-69) and, having outscored Woods by two strokes while partnering him on Saturday, he will take so much from the week.
The Midlander, who finished second to McIlroy at last year’s US PGA, has committed to the US PGA Tour this year and, after an indifferent start, this was just the encouragement he required.
Yet undoubtedly the most impressive story was that of Erik Compton, who finished alongside Lynn and Rose for the first top 10 of his career.
Compton has undergone two heart-transplant operations; the last just five years ago. The 33-year-old from Miami won the Mexico Open last year to earn his US PGA Tour card and his 70 on Sunday highlighted his determination to become more than simply a sporting curio.



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