Rory must take his chance and play it straight
RORY McILROY has a precious opportunity to repair serious collateral damage incurred during those fraught, confusing moments immediately following last Friday's meltdown at The Honda Classic.
The World No 1 will, I understand, take advantage of his media conference tomorrow morning at the Cadillac Championship in Doral to close the yawning credibility gap currently threatening to engulf him.
McIlroy's hard-earned reputation for fearlessly facing up to reality – however harsh – was placed at risk last Friday when his initial assertion that no physical issue had prompted his stunning decision to walk off the Champion Course, was followed soon afterwards by statements directly attributing his withdrawal to wisdom teeth pain.
Nobody doubts McIlroy has attended the dentist recently in an effort to resolve this issue, and, from grim personal experience, your correspondent can readily attest to the persistent and debilitating effect of aching wisdom teeth.
Yet, as former Tour player Brandel Chamblee, an analyst with America's Golf Channel, said at the weekend: "He (Rory) has opened himself up to a crescendo of speculation.
"He didn't talk about a tooth issue before this week, during the week (of the tournament) or even mention it to Ernie Els or Mark Wilson during his round or (to reporters) in the parking lot (afterwards) when he had a chance. He only brought it up an hour later in a statement that's going to pose question marks and speculation," the pundit added. "What isn't a question mark is how different he is this year to last year."
Really, there's only one way for McIlroy to seize back the high ground and protect the credibility drawn from his courageous performance in front of the cameras following his Sunday afternoon meltdown at the 2011 US Masters.
He is not one for ducking responsibility or making excuses. One recalls him facing equally unpleasant music with aplomb after a shocking second round 79 sent him tumbling out of the BMW PGA at Wentworth last May, while McIlroy bravely stepped right out on a limb in Abu Dhabi last month to clinch the Ryder Cup captaincy for Paul McGinley.
You correspondent was not alone in being reliably informed over the weekend by a close friend of McIlroy's that the Holywood star accepts widespread criticism of his actions last Friday. More importantly, he's expected to frankly address the pressures which led him up that blind, pitch-black alley on the 18th fairway at PGA National last Friday.
Though he'll confirm he was in severe pain at the time, McIlroy is likely to explain how, indeed, frustration with his game put him "in such a bad place mentally" that he couldn't take any further humiliation and simply walked away.
Tiger Woods made a couple of interesting observations last weekend at the Honda, at the same time defending McIlroy yet also publicly advising him that he should think more carefully in future before commenting to the media.
"I've been through it for a long time, but also this is a slightly different era," said Woods, explaining that the World No 1 is under more severe pressure now than he was just a few years ago.
The circulation of information and rush to judgment by the electronic media "is even faster than what it was when I came out (on tour)," he said. "Things are instantaneous around the world these days, while we were still in fax machines – things were a little bit slower. It can get out of hand, especially when you get into social media and start tweeting. There are so many different things that can go wrong."
Essentially, Woods was advising McIlroy to be more discreet. To take the heart from his sleeve and wear it inside his shirt. To conceal his true feelings and row in with the bright shining lies, which PR men love to tell about our sporting heroes.
Lies that, in Tiger's case, were blown asunder in such shocking and spectacular fashion when he crashed his vehicle into that fire hydrant outside his former home in Orlando in 2009.
No matter how grimly he's performed on his fleeting visits to the competitive arena this season, McIlroy's golf swing will be fixed soon. A man's reputation is far more fragile and precious.
Tomorrow, McIlroy has a second chance that few get. The credit and credibility he's built up over the past five years have earned him this opportunity to be forthright and true. Now he must prove he's still brave enough to grasp it.