ERNIE ELS still agonises over those fated moments when Rory McIlroy shook his hand, walked out of the Honda Classic and into the greatest storm of his stellar career.
Yet even as the South African expressed sympathy with the world No 1 at Doral, McIlroy did little to douse this blazing controversy in an intriguing Twitter exchange with former Boyzone star and golf fanatic Ronan Keating.
McIlroy today faces one especially difficult consequence of last Friday's head-throw when he hosts a pre-tournament press conference at the Cadillac World Golf Championship.
Already this week, McIlroy has admitted in an interview with Michael Bamberger of 'Sports Illustrated' that he acted impetuously.
Despite nagging pain from an impacted wisdom tooth, he revealed that his decision to quit was not forced by a true medical emergency.
Performing this interview was a smart move after last Friday's public relations nightmare, when the Ulsterman's initial assertion that he wasn't suffering from any physical ailment was followed an hour later by a tweet saying "a tough day made impossible by severe tooth pain."
By coming out publicly and unequivocally admitting his guilt to 'Sports Illustrated', McIlroy inevitably drew some of the sting from today's media briefing ... but the Holywood star still faces the most daunting off-course ordeals of his young life at Doral.
There will be no room for equivocation from McIlroy in this arena if he is to repair damage done to his credibility. At stake is this young man's reputation as a fearless, fresh and forthright No 1 for world golf following the demise of Tiger Woods.
Inevitably, McIlroy will be asked about the meaning of a tweet he issued yesterday: "For every complex situation, there's a simple solution. #FTB."
It was coupled later with this slogan from Nike "Success isn't given. It's earned. On the track, on the field, in the gym. With blood, sweat and the occasional tear," leading many to deduce #FTB meant 'Feel the Burn'.
However, an exchange between McIlroy and Keating hinted at a different, less contrite interpretation.
"Love the #tag bro," Keating tweeted, to which McIlroy replied "Shane Lowry told me you'd like it :)."
Keating had "F**k the Begrudgers" tattooed on the inside of his wrist three years ago.
Els chided himself yesterday for not urging McIlroy to pause on the 18th fairway at PGA National and reconsider.
"When we shook hands, I wanted to say something to Rory ... but I didn't and I kind of regret that," said Els, clearly feeling almost a paternal sense of responsibility towards a young professional, 20 years his junior.
"Listen," he went on. "I was also 22 or 23. I'm 43 now but, looking back, I did a lot of silly things. What he's done is nothing compared to what I did – speak to my parents. When it comes to where Rory's at now, you've got to maybe think a little bit more than two minutes.
"Obviously, last Friday was a bit of a heat-of-the-moment thing.
"He is who he is. At that moment, you've got to respect what the individual is like, and he wanted to get off.
"Then we obviously heard that his wisdom tooth was bothering him. If that was the reason, I would have been out of my depth at that stage to say something to him.
"You can hardly say to the guy 'hey, why don't you stay out here, just think about it a little bit' if he's actually struggling with something. At first I thought that's what I should have said. I didn't, but I thought I should have."
Els saw McIlroy "practising his tail off right through the day" at The Bear's Club in West Palm Beach over the weekend and again after the Seminole Pro Member Tournament on Monday afternoon.
"We did talk about this a little bit in private," he said.
"Obviously, Rory's working hard on his game. He's a great kid and a great player and if he admits he's made a mistake, then that's it. Let's move on."