DORAL, Fla. – The statement released by his handlers was almost as bad as the kid’s decision to walk out on the tournament.
It was the first big mistake of his career, at a time when the golf world was enthralled by such a young talent. He was criticized by the press and by his peers for his selfish behavior, though there was hope that he at least would learn from his mistake.
This was Tiger Woods, 1996.
In his fourth straight PGA Tour event since turning pro, the 20-year-old Woods effectively locked up a spot on tour with his tie for third in the B.C. Open. The next week he had another sponsor’s exemption to the Buick Challenge. Woods showed up at Callaway Gardens before abruptly leaving town, and IMG released a statement that he was exhausted. It looked even worse when Woods didn’t even stick around for the Fred Haskins Award dinner to honor him as college player of the year.
Eleven days later, Woods won in Las Vegas and all was forgotten.
That’s the best way out for Rory McIlroy. Good golf goes a long way.
McIlroy laid the foundation for seeking forgiveness in a 25-minute telephone interview Sunday night with Sports Illustrated. He said what everyone else suspected: It was frustration over his game and not pain from his wisdom tooth that led him to walk out on the Honda Classic just eight holes into his second round. He was 7-over par, and with his second shot in the water on No. 18, it was about to get worse.
So he turned in his scorecard and bolted for the parking lot.
“What I should have done is take my drop, chip it on, try to make a 5 and play my hardest on the back nine, even if I shot 85,” McIlroy told the magazine. “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.”
Expect to hear much of the same when he speaks today at Doral.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland won his second major last year, captured the money title on the two biggest tours, swept all the important awards and established himself as No. 1 in the world. He also signed a big deal with Nike said to be worth upward of $20 million a year. And he was eager to prove it.
He told Sports Illustrated he needed to be more like Woods.
“He might be the best athlete ever in terms of his ability to grind it out,” McIlroy said. “I could have a bit more of that, if I’m honest.”
McIlroy has played only 80 holes in three tournaments this year. Is his psyche really that fragile?
He has two more tournaments on his schedule before the Masters, and the good news about Doral is that it’s a World Golf Championship with no cut. McIlroy is guaranteed four rounds for the first time this year. The first step is his press conference Wednesday.
For McIlroy, honesty will go a long way toward putting this behind him.
Winning will go even further.