There are so many things that can derail a career, said Tony Jacklin only last Monday at St Andrews, the home of golf.
The old sage was mulling the change-of-club issue and the impact new equipment might have on the immediate career of Rory McIlroy.
Jacklin, who swaggered through the game in the late 1960s and early 70s before television was interested, dismissed the idea that the switch from the Titleist technology that delivered two majors might impede progress. Instead he raised the spectre of the random variable, the left field entry that can throw a spanner in the sweetest swings.
Jacklin probably didn’t have wisdom teeth on his mind, but then again neither did McIlroy when he quit after his ball found water on the 18th. At least he made no mention of it, leading us to believe his discomfort was cerebral, saying he wasn’t mentally “there”. Neither did his management team have any knowledge of the dental disorder, claiming he was neither hurt, sick nor answering his phone.
The cynics out there received McIlroy’s retrospective reasoning with a raised eyebrow or two, a cough, a smirk and an ‘excuse me?’ Let us be generous and hope that his teeth were giving him gyp, for to quit mid-round as defending champion and world No 1 would constitute a serious breach of sporting obligation.
Shifting to the boxing canvas, the great Roberto Duran was arguably the greatest lightweight to lace leather, he fought all-comers in their own back yards and raised his glove above the great Sugar Ray Leonard at welterweight. And then five months later in the rematch he quit on his stool. “No mas,” he said. No More. Those words carry a heavy echo whenever Duran’s name is mentioned. He later offered stomach cramps as an excuse. The damage was done.
Such is the scale of the legend enveloping McIlroy, any deviation from the soaring narrative attracts brutal scrutiny. Failure is not part of the script for 23-year-old double major winners paid hundreds of millions of dollars to conquer as Nike mannequins.
McIlroy has climbed out of troughs before, notably last year when a run of 13 top-five finishes in 15 events was followed by four missed cuts in six.
The psychoanalysts were mobilised to account for the mysterious collapse of the supernova. Relax, he said. I’ll be fine. And so he was, regrouping to claim his second major at the US PGA by eight shots and claim back-to-back victories in the Fed-Ex play-offs. In his last competitive round of 2012 he closed with five successive birdies to win in Dubai and seal the money list on both sides of the pond.
In a candid press conference toward the end of last year he spoke of the need to get away from the game in order to reconnect with the lad he used to be. Though a forlorn hope, it usually amounted to a flight to a distant corner to be with his girlfriend, the former world tennis No 1 Caroline Wozniacki. He felt their absences acutely. Maybe his discomfort yesterday was rooted in that relationship and not a tooth. The searing heat of twentysomething romance can burn as well as buoy.
Whatever is ailing him, let us hope he finds a cure soon. The Cadillac Championship and the deepest field of the year looms next week down the Florida coast in Miami.
The world was on his case the moment he chipped into a washing-machine on TV as a nipper. The Nike deal upped the ante 120 million notches. He is public property now. Quitting is not an option, toothache or not.