Jack Nicklaus believes that Rory McIlroy was wrong to walk out of the Honda Classic and advised the world number one to forget about his problems adjusting to his Nike clubs.
The 18-time major winner predicted in Palm Beach Gardens last night that McIlroy will be playing “just fine” when the Masters rolls around and urged him to “move on.”
As 27-year old Michael Thompson shot a one under 69 to win the Honda Classic by two shots from Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy (69) on nine under, the Golden Bear reluctantly weighed in on McIlroy’s shocking decision to walk off the course after completing just eight holes of his second round on Friday.
On the walk out, he said: “He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course. That was unfortunate. I think if he had thought about it for five minutes he wouldn’t have done it.
“I think he’s a good kid, he’s a sharp kid and he’s so frustrated with what’s happened and how he’s played for the last month or so that it just got to him.
“I talked to him on Monday and we had this exact conversation before the tournament. I said, ‘Don’t talk about your golf clubs, you are too good a talent. It will come around, just go play golf.’
“I am sure Nike will work with him to get where he has to get. He will be fine. When the Masters rolls around, Rory McIlroy is going to be playing just fine.”
McIlroy’s decision to walk off the course in Florida on Friday has drawn plenty of criticism and while Nicklaus said it was a mistake the 23-year old probably regrets, he backed him to bounce back quickly if he can get over his teething problems with his new equipment.
“He’s got to move on,” said Nicklaus, who revealed that McIlroy told him last week that he was struggling with his new irons. “I really don’t know if it was a wisdom tooth or what it is, but I know that Rory is such a good player, such a talented kid and such a nice kid and he wants to do right.
“He has had a not very good stretch and it is easy to blame it on your golf clubs but I don’t really buy that because I look back at what I did.
“I represented Slazenger’s England when I went over to the British Open, and the small ball. Then I came back and played our clubs here. Then I played in Australia and I would play Slazenger’s Australia and the B51 little small ball down there.
“I went back and forth and played all those balls and different clubs and frankly you’ve just got to learn to deal with it. Not everything is perfect and his talent is so much greater and a much bigger influence on his golf game than his clubs. He could play with anything.”
Graeme McDowell, who was joint runner up with tournament winner Thompson in last year’s US Open, was pleased with his improved short game after a closing 70 gave him a share of ninth place with a disappointing Lee Westwood on two under par.
“I feel like I’ve got some really nice momentum,” said McDowell, whose title chances went on Saturday when he dropped five shots in a four-stretch on the front nine and did well to shoot a three over 73.
Pleased with his 70 in high winds, McDowell added: “I played solid at the Match Play last week and I’m happy with the progress I’m making, especially around the greens.
“I scrambled extremely well. My bunker play was sharp, my putting was sharp and everything bodes well. It’s early in the season, only three events in and I’m happy the way things look and looking forward to a test at Doral next week.”
Former world number one Tiger Woods eagled the last from 10 feet to camouflage a poor day at a blustery PGA National, carding a four over 74 to finish tied for 37th on four over.
“I just made too many penalties this week,” Woods said. “Today is a perfect example, I didn’t play that poorly. I had two water balls and a lost ball. Take those away, and I missed two short birdie putts, and it was actually a decent score. So just got to clean up my rounds.”
Having played with Rory McIlroy last Sunday and with President Obama the Sunday before, Woods was less than inspired alongside 25-year old Oklahoma rookie Robert Streb, who outscored him by three shots to finish tied 18th.
Tied for 32nd on level par starting the day following three successive 70’s, Woods would fail to repeat the career best closing round of 62 that put eventual champion McIlroy under such tremendous pressure 12 months ago.
“I passed 62 somewhere around 12,” Woods said.
He was seven shots off the lead following a birdie at the second but then lost a ball off the tee at the sixth, hitting it so far right that it sailed over the heads of the players playing the adjacent fourth.
The American had saved a miraculous par despite driving into the water on the left at the same hole on Thursday. But while his drive was eventually found in rough right of the fourth fairway, the five-minute search time was up, resulting in his second lost ball of the week, a trip back to the tee and double bogey six.
He followed up with a poor swing and a bogey at the par-three seventh, then kissed his watching daughter Sam near the eighth green. But while he birdied the ninth from four feet, he double bogeyed the tough 11th by finding water with his second from the rough.
Three over for the day, he bogeyed the par-three 12th when he left his bunker shot in the trap, then three-putted the 15th and dumped his drive into the water at the 16th to drop another shot.
McDowell birdied the first from two feet, bogeyed the short fifth but then birdied the 13th to continue his positive start to the season following his run to the quarter-finals in the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
He bogeyed the last but did not spend much time lamenting the five dropped shots in a four-hole stretch on Saturday that cost him a chance of victory.
“Yeah, stretch of holes I played yesterday when I bogeyed four, doubled five, bogeyed six and bogeyed seven,” he said. “That was a killer blow for me yesterday.
“It took me seven or eight holes yesterday to kind of find my groove in this wind and really happy the way I hit the ball the last 27 holes.
“Bogeyed the last, got a huge mud ball in the middle of the fairway, trying to hit three-wood and just went duckhook left. Apart from that I didn’t leave a lot of shots out there.
“I really scrambled well. It was hard. So like I say, there was a stretch of four holes yesterday just blew me out of the tournament.”
Rookie Luke Guthrie, who was tied for the lead with Thompson overnight, finished third on five under after a 73 while Lee Westwood crashed to a 74 to share ninth place with McDowell on two under.
As Thompson jumped 79 places to world No 45 with Ogilvy up 32 places to 47th, they made the top 50 in the world who qualify to join McIlroy (No 1), McDowell (No 19) and Padraig Harrington (down three places to 53rd) in this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.