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Ernie on Rory: "I look back, I did a lot of silly things"

Ernie Els regrets not stopping Rory McIlroy walking off the course. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieErnie Els regrets not making more of an effort to talk Rory McIlroy out of his shocking decision to walk out at the Honda Classic.

But as the Big Easy knows from bitter personal experience, 23-year olds regularly regret decisions they make in the heat of the moment, or in McIlroy case, when they are “seeing red.”

“Listen, I was also 22, 23; I’m 43 now,” Els said. “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.”

McIlroy’s management company was accused of dropping the ball last Friday when it issued a statement blaming a toothache for his decision to walk away when only an hour earlier he had made no mention of his wisdom teeth and told reporters, “I’m just not in a great place mentally.”

Less than 48 hours later, efforts were made to defuse today’s face to face with the media ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Championship today by conceding an interview Sports Illustrated’s on-line publication Golf.com, admitting that walking off at the Honda Classic “was not the right thing to do.”

It was a canny move designed to take the sting out of today’s media conference at Doral but it now appears that the beleaguered world number one will have more questions to answer over a Twitter exchange with pop star Ronan Keating yesterday and the meaning of the hashtag #FTB.

Keating has the words “F**k the begrudgers” tattooed on the inside of his wrist and regularly uses the #FTB hashtag in his tweets.

Now McIlroy has joined the club prompting some critics to speculate that he is lashing out at the negative coverage he has received worldwide for letting his poor golf get the better of him at PGA National last Friday morning, when he walked in after dropping seven shot in eight holes and did not bother to complete his ninth.

McIlroy tweeted: “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution. #FTB,” and received a response from Keating which read, “loving the hash tag bro. #FTB”

McIlroy then replied “@shanelowrygolf told me you would like it, ;) hope you are well.”

McIlroy later tweeted a Nike motivational image bearing the words: “Success isn’t given. It’s earned. On the track, on the field, in the gym. With blood, sweat and the occasional tear.” He then added the hashtag #FTB.

Perhaps it means Feel The Burn, but as Els knows, being number one brings pressures the world number 50 never has to worry about.

“When it comes to being where he’s at, you’ve got to maybe think a little bit more than two minutes,” Els said of McIlroy’s hasty decision to walk out.  “You know, in a couple of years’ time, he won’t even think about this or talk about this.”

McIlroy spoke to Golf.com on Sunday night, explaining: “It was a reactive decision. What I should have done is take my drop, chip it on, try to make a five and play my hardest on the back nine, even if I shot 85.

“What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me - it was not the right thing to do.”

According to the interview, McIlroy admits that the wisdom tooth story was just an excuse though his bottom right impacted wisdom tooth, which is being treated by his childhood dentist in Belfast, was causing him pain and will be extracted soon.

However, McIlroy also revealed that it was his faulty swing more than multi-million dollar move to Nike that was the true cause of his meltdown.

“The driver and the ball took some time to get used to, but I had weeks at Nike before the start of the year, and I feel comfortable with all the equipment,” he said. “The problem is, I’m bringing the club too upright on the backswing then dropping it in too much on the downswing.”

Els revealed that he saw McIlroy “practicing his tail off” at the Bear’s Club at weekend and ran unto him again during a member-guest invitational at exclusive Seminole on Monday.

But the Big Easy admitted that he regretted not trying to talk McIlroy out of his walk-out when the Holywood native shook his hand and abandoned the South African and playing partner Mark Wilson on the 18th fairway at PGA National last Friday.

“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 said.  “But you know, 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 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.”

Asked if he’d have bothered to tee it up if he was suffering from toothache, Els brought the house down when he said:  “I don’t know.  I think I would have taken a shit-load of Advil.  That’s a hard one.  If it’s a cold morning, it would have hurt more.”