Graeme McDowell insisted Rory McIlroy must stop trying to prove his doubters wrong and play for himself.
The Portrush man added a 68 to his opening 67 to trail clubhouse leader Luke Gutherie by just four shots on five under par at the halfway stage of the Honda Classic.
But his post-round chat was dominated by McIlroy’s stunning meltdown and withdrawal after just eight holes of his second round.
Believing McIlroy is suffering from a crisis of confidence over his swing and as a result is trying too hard to prove his $250m move to Nike wasn’t a mistake, McDowell said: “I’m sure the guy has a lot on his mind.
“When you start trying to prove things to other people and you stop playing for yourself it is a very dangerous place to be.
“He is playing to prove things to you guys [the media], playing to the naysayer and people who said he shouldn’t have done what he has done.
“Everyone is saying he can’t do it with Nike equipment. This game is an extremely difficult sport, especially when you start playing for other people.
“He is trying to prove to the world that he is good enough with Nike equipment and it is early days.
“We’ve had some time off. He’s rusty. I know where he is at. I can’t compare 2011 where I was after I changed equipment and where he is.
“He is a superstar, a global superstar at that, it can only be pressure magnified. But he will get over it. He is a smart kid.
“He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen and once he starts believing in himself again he will be back. To me he is not swinging the club the way he was late summer last year.
“His familiar right to left ball flight has gone to a little bit of a cut shot. I know he has been working hard on that shot but he just looks a little underneath it and the right side of the golf course is now in play for him and he doesn’t have that flight we are all used to seeing.
“To me it is not equipment, it is all technique and a little bit of belief inside his own head. He will be okay. He’s a young and very talented individual.”
McDowell noticed that McIlroy was struggling on the range but insisted that he can only regain his confidence through tournament play.
He said: “When I made my move to Srixon, I had to put a card in my pocket, play competitively and get that feedback and that confidence back. There is no substitute for that.
“You have got to do it on the course. It doesn’t matter what you do in practice.”
The warning signs were there on the range as the pair warmed up together side by side, though McDowell said there was no mention of the toothache McIlroy would later blame for his walking off the course on his ninth hole.
McDowell added: “His demeanour looks a little different. I warmed up beside him on the range this morning and it wasn’t the normal display of ‘flushery’ that we normally see. There’s a word.
“I felt he was a little off with his swing this morning and there were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me and that’s not like him.
“It is normally a display, normally a clinic with superlatives from the coach and caddie being thrown out in the background and it wasn’t like that this morning.
“That’s a sign to me of a guy who is lacking a bit of belief in his game and a bit of belief in his technique.”
Calling for patience for his pal, McDowell added: “You don’t write that kid off. He has got the X-factor and he will be okay.”
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