There’s a lot of love out there for Rory McIlroy but while everyone from Russell Henley to Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller were constructive and kind about the Ulsterman’s final round collapse at the Honda Classic, the man himself started the healing process straight way by taking ownership of his mistakes.
There were no excuses, no ifs of buts, and even though he could have clung to true grit he showed by hitting that truly sensational five-wood to 11 feet at the 72nd, he didn’t sugar-coat it.
In a brutally honest and thorough laudable post round interview that should surely put an end to any further temptation to put out those sanitised Q&A interviews that have been issued in his name recently, McIlroy showed just why he is a true champion.
“I didn't play well enough to win today, and that was the short story of it,” he said in his final answer of a post-round interview that was only marginally shorter than the hasty and highly coached pre-tournament interview he gave in the media centre on Wednesday.
“…but yeah,” he said after going through the destructive shots that mangled him in the Bear Trap and in the play-off, “74 today wasn’t good enough to get the job done. You know, even if I had won, it would have felt a little bit undeserved.”
Give that man a round of applause for honesty.
Leading by two strokes overnight, he was bleeding profusely even before he got swiped by the bear’s claws.
While the cracks that appeared when he was under the cosh will raise some questions, the stellar 245-yard approach to the final hole that gave him a putt for victory is all the evidence he needs to know that this is just a blip, a technical tic he will learn to control under pressure.
“When you go out with a two-shot lead, you have to play well and you have to go out and win the thing, and if I had of won today, I would have counted myself very lucky,” McIlroy said. “Just got to pick myself up, get back at it and try and get myself back into contention at Doral next week and try and get the job done then.”
Considering that McIlroy got to 13 under par through five holes of the final round, it beggars belief that eight under made the playoff.
“If you told me eight‑under was in a playoff, I would have said B.S,” said Ryan Palmer, who missed a four-foot par putt at the last to get to nine under before gratefully joining McIlroy, Henley and Russell Knox in extra time.
What's clear from Sunday is that McIlroy’s pull under pressure is still there.
Nicklaus tried to remind McIlroy that he wasn’t exactly taking on Miller, Palmer, Weiskopf, Trevino or Watson coming down the stretch but a couple of guys called Russell and a youngster who had all but disappeared off the face of the planet since his maiden PGA Tour win in Hawaii 14 months ago.
“When you haven’t won for a while, it’s tough,” Nicklaus said. “This is not an easy Tour out here. Everybody plays well and he is going to be nervous coming down the stretch. I had a little conversation with him a couple of years ago and we talked about trying to do more than you think you can.”
He started well but when it rivals refused to go away and he made some mistakes, he pulled so many shots that the bogeys mounted and his putter simply wasn’t hot enough to put out the fires.
As Lee Westwood pointed out following the 2011 Masters, when McIlroy’s green jacket challenge disappeared into the cabins left of the 10th: “When he is feeling under pressure, Rory has a hook in his locker.”
Miller described it perfectly afterwards.
“Here’s his swing. It moves here and then it drops just about an inch to put it in the slot. That keeps it down the middle. Today on the back nine he went back here and came right down on the same plane, left. Everything was going left because he didn’t drop it in. Could be from tension, could be from anxiety, whatever, but he was not dropping it in the ol’ slot.”
McIlroy admitted he simply couldn’t play the hold-up shot that’s so crucial in the wind at PGA National.
“There was a lot of holes out there where I was just trying to play these little holdup shots and I was just losing them left. Body was stopping and club was getting past my body. And you know, ironic the cut shot that I needed, I hit at the last and obviously had a putt to win the tournament and didn't quite make it.
“I had my chances. Even had my chance at the last and just wasn't to be. Tough to take at the minute but I'll sleep it off tonight and get back at it.
If he can hit that cut on 18 with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders, you could argue that it really is more technical than mental.
That towering five-wood might just turn out to be heaven sent and what better place than this week’s tilt with Donald Trump’s new-look Blue Monster to prove that he really is the chosen one.