We should forgive Rory McIlroy for his hastened exit last Friday at the Honda Classic. I realize he was the defending champion and that as the No. 1 player in the world his presence there meant potentially good crowds, network ratings and story lines. I realize it looked petulant and was handled poorly. As a member of the media I had questions I wanted answered. As a former player I sympathized.
Rory wasn’t the only withdrawal at PGA National. Brian Davis shot 78 in the first round and withdrew without commenting. No questions or criticism were directed his way. Before the Honda, Rory had played 58 tournaments on Tour and had never withdrawn. Davis withdrew from an event in 2012—and ’11 and ’10 and ’09. No one noticed.
Since 1988 the No. 1 player has withdrawn four times: Greg Norman from the 1988 U.S. Open with a sore wrist, Ernie Els from the ’98 Barclays with back spasms, Tiger Woods from the ’06 Northern Trust with the flu and again from the ’10 Players with a neck injury. I don’t remember those withdrawals generating the criticism that has been directed at Rory.
Rory has admitted he was wrong and should have played on, but his conduct thus far in his career should earn him a one-time pass. He’s still figuring this all out. We media folks ask a lot of the players, and most of them accommodate us civilly. Rory has been a gem, so let’s give him a little understanding.