Philadelphia, PA – Rory McIlroy took his medicine on Wednesday, numbing the sting of a bum tooth and a painful withdrawal at a largely effective and believable press conference.
The world No. 1 addressed his Honda Classic gaffe with his usual candor, convincingly dismissing notions of equipment troubles and relationship woes with ease.
In fact, McIlroy's only stumble came when he was forced to talk about that pesky tooth; the one which arose as a convenient excuse for withdrawal, then lingered like the effects of a Novocaine injection.
Here's the thing about McIlroy's Honda exit: it was immature and childish. He took his clubs -- not his ball, which was in the water -- and went home because he was having a bad day. Title defense and Nike sponsorship be damned.
McIlroy readily and easily admitted on Wednesday it was the wrong thing to do, but when asked about that stupid molar he fumbled for a response like a class- cutting student with a forged doctor's note:
"I wasn't in a good place with my golf game," he said. "Mentally, my head was all over the place, but, at the same time, 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 some of the pressure on it. I'm taking medication until I get home to Northern Ireland and see my dentist, who would be the only guy that I would trust to take it out."
According to Michael Bamberger of Sports Illustrated, Rory actually did present a doctor's note, in the form of a faxed letter from his Belfast dentist, Mark Conroy, to the PGA Tour offices on Monday.
Come on. A doctor's note? Braces? No doubt the condition is real, but the whole thing sounds a little juvenile, no?
Let's not forget, McIlroy played through pain before, toughing out an 11-over finish at the 2011 PGA Championship after swinging into a tree root and injuring his wrist.
To his credit, McIlroy acknowledged that an ailing molar was a poor excuse: "My tooth was bothering me, but it wasn't bothering me enough to quit."
And if Toothgate sounds a bit juvenile, that's because it is. McIlroy is all of 23 and he readily admitted on Wednesday that there's room for growth.
"I'm still learning," he said. "Hopefully I've got 20 to 25 more years of this to do and having the pleasure of talking to you guys (the media) every Wednesday."
Molar misstep or not, the guy knows how to work a room. And what became increasingly apparent on Wednesday was the true cause of his withdrawal: the plane of his swing.
"When I take the club away and try and put it in the right position, it feels very alien to me right now. But the more reps I do, the more comfortable I'm gonna get with it," he admitted.
McIlroy also acknowledged that the mechanical problem was a concern coming into the season, which helps explain a missed cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and a first-round WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship loss prior to the Honda fiasco.
"This year, we knew that it was a little bit of a problem and we were trying to find a balance between making a bit of a swing change and finding some playability in it so that I could actually go out and play and not think about it," McIlroy said. "But what we realized is there's no quick fixes in golf. You've just got to get to the root of the problem."
Getting to the root involved McIlroy working his "(rear) off over the last four or five days." But he is projecting long term at this point, willing to sacrifice immediate results for success later in the season.
"I know that if I can get myself back on track that the results will follow. So I'm not putting any pressure on myself this week (at the WGC-Cadillac Championship) to perform. I just want to get my swing in the right position and I know that when I do that the results will follow."
McIlroy has just one event (the Shell Houston Open in late March) scheduled before the Masters, although he left the door open for adding tournaments if he struggles this week.
And that is a likely scenario. McIlroy's season has been one of growing pains; dealing with the added pressure, notoriety and scrutiny of being No. 1.
"I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform and I've been working so hard and not really getting much out of it," he admitted. "That's just been the frustrating thing and that's what happened."
The Honda withdrawal (and subsequent tooth excuse) was certainly a mess, but it seems to have leant the young man some wisdom. McIlroy is taking his lumps, learning to deal with the pressure and growing as a professional. Give it time and his game is sure to follow.