A time for McIlroy and his team to learn lessons
WHAT is it about golf that makes its most extravagantly gifted exponents so incredibly insecure? Rory McIlroy confessed it felt like "the end of the world" when he walked off the 18th fairway and out of The Honda Classic after just eight holes of last Friday week's second round.
It was as if he'd lost forever the Holy Grail. The 23-year-old admitted he'd rarely been so bereft of hope and confidence as early last week when he and coach Michael Bannon tried to restore the Midas touch to his swing.
Yet as kids screamed shrilly for his autograph following Sunday's phenomenal fourth-round 65 at the Cadillac Championship, McIlroy and the rest of us wondered what all the fuss had been about.
Still, the Holywood star and his management team at Horizon must learn from one of the most unhappy episodes of his professional career.
"If I have a bad round, it's sort of like the end of the world," he confessed.
"I guess I have to stay patient and let whatever happens happen... know that if I put in the hard work it will bear fruit, either sooner or later."
It's difficult to imagine McIlroy not wearing his heart on his sleeve... but the spotty early-season schedule which left him so ill-prepared for the rigours of PGA National and the defence of his Honda Classic title must be analysed and acted upon.
After an abject first outing with Nike clubs at January's Abu Dhabi Championship, McIlroy had five weeks to hone his game for the start of his season proper at the Accenture World Golf Championship.
The nature of 18-hole match play meant that McIlroy's first-round defeat to Shane Lowry in Tucson set off few alarm bells, but lasting just 26 holes at Honda certainly did.
McIlroy rolled up his sleeves for a series of lengthy remedial sessions with Bannon the following Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Like the guy who misses his bus, he had to run hard to catch it at the next stop. It bore fruit from Friday onwards at Doral.
"I think he's on the right track," said Tiger Woods, McIlroy's playing companion in the first two rounds of the Cadillac.
"He started doing some things a lot better on Friday than he did on Thursday and you could see it building.
"Rory's been working his tail off and is heading in the right direction."
For sure he has – though it prompts the question: what was the nature of work done before the week of the Honda Classic to leave his swing so badly out of kilter?
Over the final 54 holes at the Cadillac, McIlroy at least proved there's no issue with his new clubs. He had the longest average driving distance (312.1 yards) with his crimson Covert over the four days at Doral.
McIlroy's iron play was magnificent in blustery conditions on Sunday as he hit more greens in regulation (15) than anyone else, while his short game and bunker play were exquisite.
After the drama of recent weeks, he's "looking forward to getting away from this whole thing to work a bit more on my game in peace and quiet".
His final outing before next month's Masters will be the Houston Open, meaning he'll have just 13 rounds of competitive golf under his belt in 2013 before Augusta.
McIlroy clearly feels comfortable enough with his game after Doral not to play Transitions in Tampa this week or join Tiger, Phil Mickelson and a host of other big names at next week's Arnie Palmer Invitational.
Instead, he'll attend the Sony Eriksson Open tennis at Key Biscayne, in which Caroline Wozniacki plays. Their relationship is a blessing for McIlroy, who benefits from being far better rounded socially than Tiger was in his youth.
In the long term, this will stand to him. However, Tiger's recent re-emergence as a serious threat to McIlroy's World No 1 status and at the Majors will spark forensic examination of his playing schedule should the youngster fail to raise a gallop at Augusta.
As for Horizon, the Honda shambles has put in train the recruitment of an authoritative media consultant to help ensure their leading clients aren't exposed to questioning when they're as vulnerable as McIlroy was minutes after walking off The Champion Course. Judging by the way he thrilled the galleries at Doral, recent unfortunate events caused little damage to McIlroy's reputation. Let's hope all involved learn from them.