Ernie Els regrets letting Rory walk off

Updated: March 5, 2013, 3:00 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- If he had it to do over again, Ernie Els said he would have tried to talk Rory McIlroy out of withdrawing during the second round of the Honda Classic on Friday.

McIlroy, 23, who was 7 over par when he picked up his ball on the 18th green, his ninth hole of the day, walked to the parking lot and into a firestorm of controversy for quitting.

"I must say, when I shook his hand on 18, I wanted to say something to him, but I didn't, and I kind of regret that,'' Els, 43, a four-time major winner who is playing in this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship, said Tuesday. "It was obviously a heat of the moment thing. He is who he is. You've got to respect what the individual at that moment is like, and he wanted to get off.

"And we obviously heard that he had his wisdom tooth was bothering him, and if that was the reason, that was that. I would have been out of my depth at that stage to say something to him if something was bothering him. So I didn't, but I thought I should have.''

After first telling reporters in the parking lot that he was in a "bad place mentally,'' McIlroy later released a statement saying he was having difficulty with his wisdom teeth. He has since told Sports Illustrated that quitting was "not the right thing to do.'' He is scheduled to address the media at Doral on Wednesday.

Els, the reigning Open Championship winner, was grouped with McIlroy, along with Mark Wilson, for the first two rounds at PGA National.

McIlroy has been struggling with his game in limited appearances, having missed the cut in Abu Dhabi to start his year, followed by a first-round exit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and then just 27 holes at the Honda Classic. He has yet to break par in an official round this year.

After a first-round 70 at the Honda, McIlroy was 7 over par through eight holes and had hit his second-shot approach into the water at the 18th. Els, upon reflection, wondered if given McIlroy's age and relative inexperience, offering some advice might have changed the situation.

"That's why I thought I needed to say something,'' Els said. "Listen, I was also 23; I'm 43 now. I look back, I did a lot of silly things and what he's done is nothing compared to what I did; speak to my parents.

"But when it comes to being where he's at, you've got to maybe think a little bit more than two minutes. In a couple of years' time, he won't even think about this or talk about this. If he wins this week, it will be the last thing we talk about, it will be history and that's what it should be. It's something that's happened and we should move on from that.

"He's a great kid, he's a great player and if he admits he's made a mistake, then that's that and let's move on.''

Els said he ran into McIlroy over the weekend at the Bear's Club in Jupiter and said they spoke briefly.

"He was practicing his tail off,'' Els said. "He was there right through the whole day, even yesterday we played at Seminole (in an outing), he was out there (at the Bear's Club) in the afternoon. So he's obviously working hard at his game. We did talk a little bit in private. We'll see what he says, you know.''

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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