Rory McIlroy's short, strange 2013 golf season became even stranger and definitely shorter on Friday when he walked off the course less than halfway through the second round of the Honda Classic, citing a dental problem and mental strain.
The world's No. 1 player issued an apology and cited distracting discomfort from a wisdom tooth for leaving an event that he had won last year. McIlroy had played his first eight holes in 7 over par and put an approach shot in the water on No. 18, his ninth hole of the day. He reportedly told his two playing companions, "Here's my card. I'm out of here."
On his way off the course, he told several reporters, "There's not really much I can say, guys. I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?"
Later, he issued a statement that said, "I sincerely apologize to The Honda Classic and PGA Tour for my sudden withdrawal. I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future. It began bothering me again last night, so I relieved it with Advil. It was very painful again this morning, and I was simply unable to concentrate. It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners . . . Even though my results haven't revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner."
Golf commentators and other pros have pointed out that some top-level golfers have struggled once they change to new equipment companies. McIlroy this past winter signed a large contract -- estimates begin at $200 million -- to play with Nike clubs. Before this week, his only appearances in 2013 have been big failures: he missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and lost to low seed Shane Lowry in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
McIlroy had seemed in good spirits after the latter, telling reporters that he played a private 36-hole match against Tiger Woods in Florida, with each player winning one 18-hole segment.
But his game appeared lost Friday. British Open champion Ernie Els, who was playing in McIlroy's group, said, "I'm a great fan of Rory's but I don't think this was the right thing to do."
When told about the wisdom tooth explanation, Els added, "He's feeling terrible about it, I know he is. That's the last thing he wants to do, is walk off. Obviously, something was seriously bothering him."