Problems with his game? No chance. Rory McIlroy played one of the great recovery shots at the Cadillac Championship to kick start his golfing rehabilitation. In his first appearance since walking out of the Honda Classic six days ago, there was a lot at stake for McIlroy here in Miami, not least the need to counter the idea that he is losing the prized elements that connect him to his audience, his sincerity and his honesty.
A dim view was taken of the rewriting of history which saw the story shift from mental to dental within an hour of his withdrawal after eight holes of his second round last Friday. McIlroy insists both accounts are true, that he was all over the place mentally and suffering discomfort in his tooth. "I have been struggling with my lower right wisdom tooth for over a year. I had braces on for six months last year to try and relieve a bit of the pressure on it and am taking medication until I get home in Northern Ireland and see my dentist. So, yeah, my tooth was bothering me, but it wasn't bothering me enough to probably, you know, to quit, but, you know, that's just the way it is."
McIlroy did not enjoy the coverage of this episode, but, ultimately, recognised where responsibility lay. He was wrong, he was sorry and it won't happen again. "There's no excuse for quitting and it doesn't set a good example for the kids watching me, trying to emulate what I do.
"It wasn't good for a whole lot of reasons, for the tournaments, the people coming out watching me. I feel like I let a lot of people down with what I did last week, and you know, for that, I am very sorry."
McIlroy combines a preternatural game with an emotional state that oscillates wildly, and demonstrably so. In this he is a golfing episode of EastEnders, existing in a bubble of exaggerated highs and lows. This heart-on-the-sleeve romp across the fairways has catapulted him to the forefront of the game, married as it is to a talent that, when harnessed, takes him clear of the field.
When his game is off, the drama is arguably greater since he has yet to acquire the mental fortitude to cope with the lows inherent in a sport as technically demanding as golf. "I realised pretty quickly that it wasn't the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing, I should have stayed out there. I should have tried to shoot the best score possible even though it probably wasn't going to be good enough to make the cut.
"At that point in time, I was just all over the place, and you know, I saw red, as I said, and you know, it was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes and I'm learning from them. Some people, I guess, have the pleasure of making mistakes in private. Most of my mistakes are in the public eye."
Strip away the confection and what you have is a player at odds with his game. The multi-million dollar switch to Nike poster boy was inevitable given his stature but heightened his profile at the very point at which technical flaws – yes, all golfers have them, even the world No 1 – began to emerge. McIlroy has endured slumps before, notably the four missed cuts in a run of six tournaments last summer. While he has a scheme and a coach for dealing with swing issues, negotiating the red carpet of global celebrity is relatively new.
The hope must be that McIlroy has learned the folly of manipulating the truth to suit his PR needs. He is loved for bad stuff as well as the good. The mistakes will be tolerated but not the sophistry. He recovered his position admirably, vowing never to forget that golf is only a game after all. "I started to play golf because I love it. It's been my life. I have to remember that," he said. "I have to go out there and enjoy myself. When you start to enjoy your golf, you start to play better and I haven't been enjoying it because I've been putting so much pressure on myself. I go out here this week, I'm going to enjoy it. I've got four rounds. I'm just going to go out there and have a good time."
Life in the goldfish bowl continues today in a group alongside Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. Fore.
- More about: