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'You should never walk off the course' – McIlroy

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Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

USA Today Sports

Rory McIlroy

By Rory McIlroy's own admission, it was "the lowest point of my career" and he was unsure if he would return. But then he realised he "owed" the Honda Classic. So here Rory is, ready to reimburse.

A year ago, the then world No 1 stunned the game by walking off the PGA National midway through his second round. His playing partners, Ernie Els and Mark Wilson, looked bemused as he strode across the fairway on their ninth hole (the 18th) to shake their hands.

McIlroy was seven-over for the eight holes he had completed that day and, after two bogeys, a double and a triple, was in the water on the par-four when he cracked. The players' car park was his new destination and on the way he told a journalist, "I'm in a bad place mentally".

An hour later, an official statement changed the story and blamed toothache. The quip was that McIlroy must have meant he was "in a bad place dentally". In truth, there were to be plenty of quips, particularly when a photograph emerged of McIlroy munching into a huge sandwich. The boy wonder's halo had finally slipped.

Twelve months on and McIlroy – despite slipping to eighth, his worst ranking in almost four years – he is in a good place mentally, and we must assume, dentally as well. As ever with McIlroy he fronted up to the inquisition yesterday and was honest; dare, one say it, almost painfully so.

"You should never walk off the golf course, no matter how bad things are," McIlroy said. "But I just felt like I couldn't cope with anything more, especially not the way I was heading. I was going to shoot 90. And that was the last thing I needed."

STABILITY

We now know that what McIlroy needed was stability, or at least for McIlroy to believe that he had stability. But in the foreground there was a misfiring swing, caused, in part, by an inadequate post-season and plainly exacerbated by the £78m switch to Nike clubs. And in the background there was the rumble of a forthcoming split from his second management company in 18 months, a division inevitably with its basis in finance and which is still being contested in the Dublin courts.

"There were a lot of things going on," McIlroy recalled. "Obviously my game wasn't where I wanted it to be, nor was my mental state and there were other things occupying my thoughts that shouldn't have been."

McIlroy suspected everything and almost everyone. But that morning it was his golf – which together with his mother, Rosie, and his father, Gerry, had been his great constant – that was proving his arch betrayer.

"It was difficult to deal with, especially when you haven't had to deal with it before," McIlroy said. "It was a shock to the system for me and I just needed a little time to deal with things. When did I realise walking off had been a mistake? Maybe a couple of days later. I realised a missed cut wouldn't have been that bad compared to a withdrawal."

By then, Jack Nicklaus had said live on TV that McIlroy should not have walked and other golfing luminaries such as Nick Faldo and yes, Els, himself, had agreed. It was a horrid scenario for Mr Popular who could previously do no wrong and knowing what we now know about the noises off, it is mightily commendable that he returned to the Doral the following week and finished in the top 10 of the WGC Cadillac Championship.

But, until he was to win the Australian Open eight months later, his season suffered in the shadow of that Honda wander and even this week the memory still jolts. Thank goodness he chose to be here, the course which is just a 10-minute drive from his £6m mansion, to make his amends.

"Of course there is a sense that I need to make up for last year – at least play 36," McIlroy said with a smirk. "There was a point when I was thinking of not playing here this year. But I owe it to the tournament and I owe it to the organisers; after what happened last year I feel I should play.

"You know for the better part of two years I didn't feel like I had a home, I was just a sort of travelling nomad. But this now feels like home and to be able to stay here this week and play in my hometown event is nice. And there's no reason why I shouldn't play well. Don't forget I won here two years ago to get to No 1."

BUILD

Indeed, he did, although it is hard to reconcile the youngster who held off the surge of Tiger Woods in 2012 with the man who tries to build on a promising start to 2014 and take on a field boasting seven of the world's top 10, including Tiger and Phil Mickelson.

Put simply, McIlroy has been through so much; competitively with another major, two money titles, so many more garlands as well as that dramatic slump and emotionally with the misery and recrimination of the termination of a multi-million dollar contract and the joy of engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

"It seems a long time, a year ago," McIlroy said. "I've changed. I am more mature, I am not as naive, I am more experienced. I guess, I just know the world a little bit more. It's been a grind, but I'm definitely back in the place where I'm comfortable, particularly here. I'm swinging the club as good as I've ever done and I'm excited to get going."

And more to the point, to keep going. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

TSHWANE OPEN, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.30/1.30

HONDA CLASSIC, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 7.0

US PGA TOUR

Tournament

The Honda Classic, PGA National (Champion), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Course length

7,241 yards (Par 70)

Purse

$6m (Winner $1.08m)

Champion

Michael Thompson(-9, play-off)

Course note

Initially designed by George and Tom Fazio in 1981, the Champion Course hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup and ’87 PGA Championship. Revamped by Jack Nicklaus for $4m 12 years ago, it’s hosted The Honda since 2007. Features the most iconic three-hole stretch on tour, the 15th, 16th and 17th holes known as the Bear Trap

Irish in action

R McIlroy (winner ‘12), G McDowell, P Harrington, D Clarke

Betting

9/1 R McIlroy, 10 T Woods, 18 A Scott, 20 G McDowell, C Schwartzel, 22 S Garcia, 25 P Mickelson, Z Johnson, 28 H Stenson, K Bradley Also: 35 R Fowler, 100 P Harrington, T Bjorn

Selection

Graeme McDowell. NB: A Scott. EW: T Bjorn

EUROPEAN TOUR

Tournament

Tshawane Open, The Els Club at Copperleaf Estate, Centurion, SA

Course length

7,964 yards (Par 72)

Purse

€1.5m(Winner: €237,750)

Champion

Dawie Van Der Walt (-21)

Course note

Built by Ernie Els on land once cultivated by his grandfather and opened in 2007, Copperleaf is very long, even in the thin air of the Highveld (all four par fives are 600 yards-plus!). Its fairways are expansive but 112 bunkers, eight lakes and shaved run-offs around the greens give ample pause for thought

Irish in action

S Lowry, M Hoey, D McGrane, G Maybin, P Lawrie, K Phelan

Betting

7/1 G Coetzee, 14 RWattel, 16 T Aiken, 20 D Fichardt, D Willett, 22 J VanZyl, 28 R Fisher, H Otto, 33 M O Madsen, D Van Der Walt, G Bourdy. Also: 40 T Fleetwood, E Molinari, 50 L Bjerregaard, 66 S Lowry

Selection

George Coetzee, NB: T Fleetwood, EW: L Bjerregaard

Irish Independent