Rory McIlroy lost in the first round at the Accenture Match Play.
Stuart Franklin / Getty Images
By Ryan Reiterman
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- In a season that began with so much hype, Rory McIlroy has yet to live up to his end of the bargain. In two starts this year, the 23-year-old missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, and then, in only his second start of the season, was bounced from the opening round of the WGC Match Play Championship last week.

The calendar is about to turn to March, and here was McIlroy at the Honda Classic Tuesday morning still answering questions about his much-ballyhooed move to Nike. So how concerned is the No. 1 player in the world? Not very.

"It's fine," McIlroy said. "I knew coming into it, it was going to be a bit of a process, and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn't happen for me right away.

"I'm only two tournaments into the season ... So it's not like I'm in any rush. It's not like I'm pushing for answers or looking for answers. Everything's there. It's just a matter of putting it all together."

When asked if the media was making too much of his equipment change, McIlroy needled back, "Of course. Like you always do with everything."

McIlroy's not pulling his curls out because he's been down this road before. Last summer, McIlroy missed four of five cuts -- including the U.S. Open -- during a mid-summer stretch. But something clicked with his swing on the range at Firestone, and the following week he won the PGA Championship by eight shots for his second major title.

(And just for the record, McIlroy is also not sweating having never played three of the four major sites this year. "I never played Congressional or Kiawah before, either," he said of the venues where he won his twin majors by a combined 16 strokes.)

He keeps reminding anyone who asks that he's in a similar situation now, and his bumpy start to the 2013 season has nothing to do with his new sticks.

"It's more about how I'm swinging the club," he said. "That's the real concern -- not concern for me, it's not a concern, but I would like to get back to where I was, say, the middle of last year. Because if you put my swing now up the way I was swinging it last year, it's chalk and cheese."

During a press event Tuesday night at PGA National, McIlroy was on hand to announce his new endorsement deal with Bose. Dressed down in a navy and white plaid shirt, crisp jeans and wingtips, McIlroy wowed the crowd by bouncing a golf ball with a wedge in each hand, a la Tiger Woods in his famous Nike commercial. McIlroy remained relaxed throughout the evening, even hanging around for an hour to chat up the media, sign autographs and have his picture taken with some young fans.

If McIlroy is looking to turn around his season, the Honda Classic would be a good place to start. McIlroy kick-started his monster 2012 campaign with a two-shot victory at PGA National over Woods and Tom Gillis. McIlroy will defend his title against a field that includes nearby residents Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Woods.

"It's a golf course I've always enjoyed playing," McIlroy said. "It's usually quite a tough test."

McIlroy has a short commute this week. He recently dropped a reported $9.5 million on a 10,000-square-foot bachelor pad about 10 minutes from PGA National.

He tuned up his game Sunday with not one but two matches against Woods at The Medalist, Woods's new home club, proving that, yes, these guys do come together for more than just Nike commercials and awkward Abu Dhabi photo ops.

McIlroy said he gave Woods a friendly salute after they spotted each other in the parking lot at the Match Play last week, having both been knocked out in the first round. With a free weekend, McIlroy said Woods texted him an invite to play, and he accepted. (If you're keeping score at home, McIlroy won one match and Woods the other.)

If NBC Sports gets lucky, they'll be dueling again late Sunday afternoon, only this time in front of thousands of fans at PGA National.

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