Rory McIlroy’s troubles are now in the dim and distant past

“I am more mature, I am not as naive, I am more experienced. I guess I just know the world a little bit more”

Rory McIlroy plays a shot during yesterday’s pro-am prior to the start of today’s Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays a shot during yesterday’s pro-am prior to the start of today’s Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 01:00

Rory McIlroy has experienced the full gamut of emotions at the Honda Classic from the zenith of the 2012 victory that saw him become world number one to last year’s nadir – the infamous walkout that made headlines around the world.

In turmoil on and off the course, the Holywood star fled without even completing the ninth hole of his second round, confessing just yards from the scene of the “crime” yesterday that at the time there was so much going wrong in his life: “I couldn’t cope with anything more.”

Seven-over par for his round after racking up two bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey, he had just carved his second shot into the lake at the par-five 18th when he shook hands with Mark Wilson and Ernie Els in mid-fairway and made for the car park.

Sitting down with the media ahead at PGA National yesterday, McIlroy admitted last year’s incident feels like it’s in the dim and distant past, so much has happened in the intervening 12 months, culminating in his break away from management group Horizon Sports Management.

Not only has McIlroy become his own man – Rory McIlroy Inc is the name of his new company – he is essentially a changed man too and one who is determined to make it up to the tournament organisers having contemplated not coming back at all at one stage last year.

“Yeah, I’ve changed,” the 24-year old said. “I am more mature, I am not as naive, I am more experienced. I guess I just know the world a little bit more.”

Asked if he would have a little more intent when he joins Masters champion Adam Scott and former Walker Cup rival Billy Horschel on the first tee tomorrow, he said: “No, but of course there is a sense that I need to make up for last year – and play 36!”

His joke said it all about the huge change in his circumstances on and off the course. Where 12 months ago he had legal problems brewing, not to mention a faulty golf game, he’s now got the perfect ball-driver combination and looks ready to beat all comers again. “I guess there was a point last year that I was thinking of not playing this year,” he said.

‘Play here’
“But I owe it to the tournament and I owe it to the organisers to play because it is now my home town event. After what happened last year I feel like I should at least play here. I’ve played well here before and like the golf course so there is no reason why I shouldn’t play. I won here and got to world number one.”

Like Tiger Woods, he is now a local player, living just a few minutes drive down the road. But while last year’s meltdown is well and truly behind him, you can still sense some emotion in his voice when he reflects on that dark day. “It feels like a long time ago, yeah, and coming in here last year, I was coming off the back of a couple of bad results in Abu Dhabi and the match play,” he said. “I was still getting used to new equipment, high expectations, and not really, I guess, not really being in control of my game.

“There were a lot of things going on at that time, as well. Obviously my game wasn’t where I wanted it to be. My mental state wasn’t quite where I needed it to be.”

Admitting that there was a touch of public hysteria surrounding his meltdown last year, he nodded and said: “It was, but you should never walk off the golf course, no matter how bad things are.

“It was just one of these days, I just felt like I couldn’t cope with anything more, especially not the way I was heading I was going to shoot 90. That was the last thing I needed.”

Was it embarrassing?

“It’s not embarrassing because I think a lot of people in the same situation might have done the same thing. But I’ve learnt from it and I’ve moved on. Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t my finest hour, but at the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes.”

Having changed management companies twice in the space of 18 months, moving from Chubby Chandler’s ISM to Horizon before striking out on his own last year, McIlroy explained to the PGA Tour website yesterday they he “outgrew” his previous management groups.

Explaining what he meant, he said: “I guess I felt a little like that in Chubby’s stable in that I didn’t feel like I was getting the right attention. I guess when you get to this level, you don’t really need a management company per se. You just need someone who knows who you are. You need a good lawyer, a couple of people around you who really know what they are doing. They don’t need to be part of a management team or part of anything. You can handle you affairs yourself.”

With first first major of the season looming, McIlroy has a chance this week to compared his game to the top three in the world in Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.

The Irish challenge is complete by the in-form Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, who needs to win qualify for next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral and avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1999.