Devil Ball Golf

Teeing Off: Rory McIlroy apologized, but it’s his golf game that’s still in question

Shane Bacon
Devil Ball Golf

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Rory McIlroy — Getty Images

Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Shane Bacon and national columnist Jay Busbee take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by hitting us on Twitter at@shanebacon and @jaybusbee. Today, it is an all Rory McIlroy chat.

Bacon: On Wednesday at Doral, Rory McIlroy faced the media in what was expected to be a pretty intense press conference. We've had golfers dodge situations before, like McIlroy walking off the golf course at the Honda Classic a week ago, but the young man seemed to face everything with humility and maturity. He said, "I had a lot of time to think about it and I realized pretty quickly it wasn't the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing I should have stayed out there." So, after looking at all that Rory had to say on Wednesday, are you impressed by what he's doing, still wondering about the guy after his play and then this blowup at PGA National or pretty much the same on our world No. 1?

Busbee: Every player has these moments when the spotlight is on them and they falter ... throwing a tantrum, saying the wrong thing, making an ill-advised decision. You can compound the problem by dodging it, or you can defuse it by meeting it head-on, which is what Rory did. More power to him for admitting his mistake. ToothAcheGate could have really become A Big Thing for Rory, one of those albatrosses that hangs around your whole career, but if he can get it together and win soon ... perhaps at a certain azalea-laden course that's bedeviled him of late ... this toothache episode is going to be remembered only by us golf geeks. Agree?

Bacon: I actually think it's more "now" than the Masters. Sure, if he wins at Augusta National there will be people laying palms down in the streets for him, but I think the way he handled this after that first day (when they really tried to spin it as "tooth problems") has shown a lot about him, the team he works with and how he wants to be perceived moving forward. But the big elephant in the room that nobody is really talking about is the fact that even with all the apologies the guy still is playing horrible golf. Do you see that changing at Doral, especially after all this early in his week? I sure don't. I know the guy is as talented as anyone on the planet at this silly game, but I don't see his golf game turning around just because he was honest about that tantrum at the Honda, do you?

Busbee: Excellent point. My only question would be the sample size we've seen so far ... only a handful of rounds in 2013. And Rory, more than most, seems subject to the whims of his own skull. You're right, unburdening your soul can help you sleep at night, but it doesn't help you read a green. (I've tried. I've gone to confession to shave strokes off my game. Hasn't worked.) He's going through an absurdly bad patch, so bad that he has to get better, and soon. But you're right, he needs a good solid week. Perhaps it's best there's no cut this week; he's guaranteed four days of reps, which is exactly what he needs now.

Bacon: Is it bad that the first thing I thought when you wrote that is Tiger Woods at the 2010 Bridgestone Invitational? He was coming in with major questions about his golf game, and the event had no cut, and it seemed that would help him, only it worked the other way. Tiger shot 74-72-75-77 that week, 18-over, and it was as nasty as the numbers look on paper. Sure, i don't see Rory blowing up to that point, but what if he just can't get it together, and has to play four rounds in a row with a leaking golf game? Wouldn't that hurt him more than help?

Busbee: True. Here's a more meta question, though: are we making more of this than it is simply because there's nothing else to write about? Guy had a crappy day and walked off in a snit. Are we giving that way too much weight? Possibly no, but possibly yeah. As with all of these off-course matters, a few birdies will solve all problems. Guaran-damn-teed. I'm still in the "this is a downswing for Rory" camp, not the "he's screwed for the season" camp. You?

Bacon: Totally with you on that. I think he will be fine moving forward, but you and I both know how important it is to be "mentally sound" on a golf course. Having a hard time at home with the family? The golf game is going to be affected. Job beating you up? It'll be in the back of your mind over putts. While guys like Rory will never have to worry about money, or a house payment or frequent flyer miles, his mind can still get in the way of his golf game, and I'm worried this week is definitely one of those weeks, especially after all this. I know that Rory will be fine moving forward, and I think he approached this week the right way, but if the answer is "play well and things disappear" I'm worried his game isn't there to do that right now.

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