While the world’s media will focus almost exclusively over the next few days on Rory McIlroy and his attempts to explain his walk out during the Honda Classic, this week’s WGC Cadillac World Championship will also be of considerable significance for Pádraig Harrington.
Having scraped into the €6.5m event as the 50th-ranked player in the world, Harrington is guaranteed four rounds but knows further poor performances will see him plunge back down the rankings and miss out on the tournaments carrying the points that will prove crucial later in his battle for a place on the 2014 Ryder Cup team.
Harrington played no small part in ensuring his friend Paul McGinley was appointed captain of the European side and made little secret of his ambition to be at the coalface at Gleneagles. To do that, he must establish himself in the world top 50 and this week, over the Blue Monster course at Donald Trump’s Doral, would be a good place to start.
The current campaign started well with a fourth place in the Volvo Champions in South Africa in early January and a share of ninth in the Phoenix Open in Arizona. But since then, he missed the cut at Pebble Beach and Los Angeles and lost in the first round of the Accenture World Match Play.
Last year, Justin Rose held off a challenge by McIlroy in the Cadillac but that won’t feature much in the build-up to this weekend’s tournament. The Co Down man will face the media to try and justify walking off the course in the Honda Classic without explaining to officials and sponsors what was going on. Jack Nicklaus put it in a nutshell when he said: “He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course. If he had thought about it for five minutes, he wouldn’t have done it.”
Rory’s failure to plug away just as Harrington, Graeme McDowell and most professionals invariably do, no matter how badly things were going was the most regrettable aspect.
Given all the evidence, the wisdom tooth excuse seems rather flimsy, leaving McIlroy with a lot to do to regain the trust of the many fans disillusioned by his actions. He needs to learn to grind and not allow his head to drop.
He has encountered crisis before and come back so strongly that he became the number one golfer in the world. But he will get over this one as well and it would help enormously if his critics bear in mind he is still only 23 and under constant scrutiny.
Rory will have the full support of those closest to him and hopefully he will also be accorded the space to get his mind back to where it should be.
A visit to a sports psychologist could prove worthwhile. Failing that, however, he might do well to examine how Harrington and McDowell handle themselves when everything seems to be going wrong. Harrington would never have got so far in his career without his renowned fighting attributes. McDowell dropped five shots in four holes early in his third round in the Honda and still hit back for a 73 before an even par 70 on Sunday earned him a share of ninth.
It’s the kind of grit that Rory needs to find — and quickly.
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