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Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: March 3, 9:50 AM ET
Rory McIlroy walks off at 7 over

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Rory McIlroy walked off the course on his ninth hole Friday and straight to his car, withdrawing from the Honda Classic after going 7-over par.

The world's No. 1-ranked player did not appear to be physically injured, telling reporters briefly in the parking lot that "I'm not in a great place mentally. I can't really say much, guys. I'm just in a bad place mentally."

The PGA Tour said Friday that McIlroy cited "wisdom tooth pain" for the withdrawal. In a statement, McIlroy said:

"I sincerely apologize. 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. I came here with every intention of defending my Honda Classic title. Even though my results haven't revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner. This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year and I regret having to make the decision to withdraw, but it was one I had to make."

McIlroy later tweeted this: "Apologies to all at the Honda. A tough day made impossible by severe tooth pain. Was desperate to defend title but couldn't play on. Gutted."

According to PGA Tour policy, a player may withdraw during a round "because of injury or other disability which requires medical attention, or serious personal emergency."

The tournament withdrawal makes McIlroy ineligible to win the PGA Tour's scoring title. He won it in 2012.

"It's unfortunate," said McIlroy's playing partner, Ernie Els, who shot even par Friday and is tied for 43rd entering the weekend. "I'm a great fan of Rory's, but I don't think that was the right thing to do.

"He's feeling terrible about it, I know he is. That's the last thing he wants to do is walk off. Yeah, if he's 7-over or whatever he was, you've got something bothering you, you know, the rules of play, you can walk off at any time.

"Obviously, something was seriously bothering him, and he was not going to make the cut and probably didn't want to continue playing that way.''

A year ago, McIlroy won the Honda Classic, holding off a hard-charging Tiger Woods, who shot a 62 to finish second by two strokes. Now, McIlroy is gone from the tournament and Woods had to scramble to make the cut on the number. He shot even-par 70 to finish at 140 and in a tie for 65th, nine strokes behind tournament leader Luke Guthrie. Woods said he has a sense for what McIlroy is enduring.

"I don't know how he's feeling. But I do understand ... I've been through it for a long time, but this is a slightly different era, as well," Woods said after his round. "It's even faster than it was when I came out. Things are instantaneous around the world.''

McIlroy began the year with much fanfare, signing a lucrative deal to endorse Nike clubs and switching all 14 in his bag to the new equipment. But since the change, he hasn't had any success.

Earlier this week, McIlroy discussed the equipment change at length.

"It's fine. I knew coming into it that it was going to be a bit of a process, and I knew there was going to be some comments if it didn't happen for me right away," he said. "I'm only two tournaments into the season. I've still got more than 20 to go. So it's not like I'm in any rush. It's not like I'm pushing for answers or I'm looking for answers. Everything's there. It's just a matter of putting it all together."

On Friday, former U.S. Ryder Cup captain and ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger tweeted this about McIlroy's club switch: "The worst thing a pro golfer can do to his GOLF GAME is change clubs for the money. Loving the clubs you play is priceless! #Rory."

McIlroy missed the cut with rounds of 75-75 at golf's season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, was bounced after the first round of last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and then shot even-par 70 on Thursday in the opening round at PGA National before making a triple-bogey, a double-bogey and two pars in his first eight holes Friday morning.

After hitting his approach into the water at the par-5 18th, McIlroy took a drop, played again, but never putted out. He signaled to his caddie that they'd be leaving, and he walked straight across the practice green and to his car. McIlroy has a home in nearby Jupiter, Fla.

"As I said the last few weeks, it's more about how I'm swinging the club," McIlroy said earlier this week. "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 want to put my swing up now the way I was swinging last year, it's chalk and cheese. So that's the real thing that I'm working on."

McIlroy won five times worldwide in 2012, including the PGA Championship, his second major title. He won the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours. He has a healthy lead over Woods in the world rankings, which are unlikely to change in the next two weeks unless Woods were to win here and at the WGC-Cadillac Invitational at Doral.