WHETHER it’s mental or dental, the pain just won't go away for Rory McIlroy. First Tiger Woods warned him to be careful what he says in future and now Jack Nicklaus has weighed in to give the kid who sees him as a father figure an ear bashing.
McIlroy will be reaching for the paracetamol again – for a sore head to go with his toothache – when he hears what Nicklaus had to say about the world No 1's controversial mid-round withdrawal from the Honda Classic here in Florida on Friday.
"He shouldn't have walked off the course," Nicklaus said. "If he would have thought about it for five minutes, he probably wouldn't have done it. He's a good kid and tries to do the right thing but unfortunately that wasn't.
"I don't know whether it was a wisdom tooth or whatever. Probably he's so frustrated with what's happening and the way he's played for the last month or so. That would be my assessment although I might be talking out of school." Nicklaus had paid a visit to the course he designed and a tournament that benefits the children's charity run by his wife Barbara.
Nicklaus also ridiculed the theory that McIlroy's new Nike clubs are to blame for his dip in form. "It's easy to blame it on your clubs but I don't buy that," Nicklaus said explaining that he once had a deal to play with different clubs and balls in the United States, Australia and for the Open in the United Kingdom. "It didn't make that much of a difference. Rory's talent is a much greater influence on his game than his clubs. You have to learn to deal with all that stuff. He can play with anything," Nicklaus said. "When the Masters comes around [next month], Rory McIlroy's game will be just fine."
Tiger Woods found himself heading for the exit before the leaders had even teed off yesterday. He fired a final-round 62 last year to finish runner-up to McIlroy. Not this year, though. "I think I passed 62 around the 12th," he said as he continues to tease with the sublime (an eagle at the 18th after a towering, rip-roaring three-iron to 10 feet of the flag) to the ridiculous (two lost balls and back in the pack at four over par). "I feel good with what I did, though," Woods said. "Just had too many penalty shots. Just got to clean up the rounds."
Both Woods and McIlroy will compete again this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami where Justin Rose is defending champion. They will hope to find some form as the Masters is now just around the corner. Woods has usurped McIlroy as the favourite to win the first major of the year as he attempts to chase down Nicklaus's record 18 major victories. Woods has been stuck on 14 since winning the 2008 US Open.
"I still think he'll break my record," Nicklaus said. "I don't think for Tiger to win four, five, six or seven more is that big of a stretch. He's always been cold-blooded to focus on what he needs to do. No reason why he can't get it done. Let's put it this way," Nicklaus added with a wry grin, "he hasn't won a major for five years. He'd better get on with it."
Lee Westwood didn't get with it at all. Playing in his new home town, he began the final round just two shots off the lead. He finished six shots adrift and tied ninth at two under par with Graeme McDowell and Charl Schwartzel after stalling with a final round of four over par. Fellow Englishmen Rose and David Lynn shared fourth place on three under par.
Victory yesterday went to America's Michael Thompson. The 27-year-old from Tucson, Arizona held off 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy to win his first ever professional tournament. Thompson seized control with a 50-foot eagle putt on the third hole. He stayed in charge with superb par saves early on the back nine and made birdie from the bunker on the last hole for a one-under 69 and a two-shot victory over Ogilvy.