Rory McIlroy opened up his press conference with a great exchange with his moderator. The moderator opened in a very serious manner and said he wanted to get right into it, which obviously led to this question:
How disappointed were you with Manchester United's score yesterday?
It was not a red card. I gave myself a red card last week.
He was jokingly referencing Nani's controversial red card for Manchester United against Real Madrid on Tuesday as well as his exit from the Honda Classic last week.
It was a strong entry into what was sure to be an awkward press conference.
The actual first question was about his withdrawal last week, here's what McIlroy had to say:
I had a lot of time to think about it and I realized pretty quickly it wasn't the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing I should have stayed out there. I should have tried to shoot the best score possible even though it probably wasn't going to be good enough to make the cut.
But at that point in time I was just all over the place and I saw red and it was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, and you know I'm learning from them. I guess for me, some people have the pleasure of making mistakes in private, most of my mistakes are in the public eye. It is what it is and I regret what I did but it's over now and it won't happen again.
This is pretty much the same thing he told Sports Illustrated on Sunday. He continued and talked a little bit about his wisdom tooth issue:
I wasn't in a good place with my golf game. Mentally my head was all over the place. At the same time I have been struggling with my lower right wisdom tooth for over a year. I had braces on for six months last year to try and relieve a bit of the pressure on it. I'm taking medication until I get home to Northern Ireland and see my dentist who would be the only guy that I would trust to take it out. My tooth was bothering me but it wasn't bothering me enough to probably quit but that's just the way it is.
That's basically what everyone had surmised about two minutes after he walked off the course last week. As for why it happened, McIlroy had this to say:
It was a buildup of everything. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform and I've been working so hard and not really getting much out of it, that's just been the frustrating thing. That's sort of what happened. It was a buildup of high expectations from myself coming off the back of such a great last year and wanting to continue that form into this year and not being able to do it.
I just sort of let it all get to me.
It's not the first time he's let the game get to him, either. He talked openly about last season:
It's the same thing as last summer, Dave Stockton said to me 'when I see you out there you're not smiling, smile more.' When I smile it lifts the spirits and that was basically the whole turnaround from last summer was my attitude. When you start to enjoy your golf you start to play better.
As for what he had in store for this week, here was his cheeky comment:
I'm going to go out here this week and I'm going to enjoy it. I've got four rounds thankfully. I'm just going to go out there and have a good time.
On what he learned:
When the going gets tough I have to stick in there a little bit more and I have to grind it out. There's no excuse for quitting and it doesn't set a good example for the kids watching me. It wasn't good for a whole lot of reasons -- the tournament, the people coming out watching me -- I feel like I let a lot of people down with what I did last week and for that I am very sorry.
And what he should have done last week:
At the time that's what I felt. It was a very reactive decision. At the time I felt like being out on that golf course wasn't going to do me any good. In hindsight if I had just taken a few minutes and collected my thoughts I would have done something different.
Why he's glad it happened:
I think in the long run Friday will be a blessing in disguise. It was like it just sort of released a valve and all that pressure I was putting on myself just went away. I was like 'just go out and have fun.' It's not life or death out there and I had sort of forgotten that this year.
I'm in a very privileged position -- I get to play a game I love for a living and sometimes I need to remember that.
This first sentence might have been the moment of the press conference, everybody had a good laugh:
There's no quick fixes in golf, you have to just get to the root of the problem, no pun intended. I know if I can get my takeaway fixed, the rest of the swing will follow. The takeaway has always been the biggest key for my golf swing and I need to get back to that. I've worked my ass off over the last four or five days to try and get this right.
More tongue-in-cheek here:
Everyone makes mistakes, I'm 23 years old, I'm still learning. I've hopefully got 20 or 25 more years of this to do and having the pleasure of talking to you guys every Wednesday.
McIlroy on the pressure of being No. 1:
You want to prove that you are No. 1 and that's not the right way to go about things. You shouldn't have to try and prove, you should just go out and play your game and if you play well enough the rankings and the results will speak for themselves.
He said he would play the Honda Classic again next year:
I owe it to the [Honda Classic] to go and play it again.
On his relationship with the press:
We, as in me and all you guys, are hopefully going to have a working relationship for the next 20 years. So I don't want to jeopardize that by being closed, I feel like I've always been open and honest in giving you guys all my thoughts. I don't want it to be that way, where's there's friction between me and the press. At the end of the day you guys are here because you're reporting what we do on the golf course all over the world, so it's not like I want that to be a strained relationship because it's going to be a long one.
On whether or not he'll play an additional tournament besides the Shell Houston Open before the Masters:
I haven't planned on it yet. I was waiting to see how I going do this week and then make a decision from there. The likelihood is that I won't have an event.
On his swing issues:
We have found it, it's just a matter of getting comfortable with it. We spent 10 hours at the Bear's Club on Saturday and maybe not quite the same on Sunday. Monday was a full day and yesterday I went to practice in the morning then went to watch Manchester United get beat.
On whether his swing or his equipment change was causing his problems:
Now I know that it's just purely the swing. The equipment is fantastic. When I make a good swing the ball goes where I want it and the flight I want it so I know that it's not that. It's just getting my swing on the right path.
On why the pressure he puts on himself is greater than any outside pressure.
I want to prove to myself that 2011 and 2012 were good years and that I can continue to have good years for the rest of my career.
Finally, on whether or not any off-the-course issues contributed to his withdrawal:
I have read what's being written. Just because I have a bad day on the golf course and Caroline loses a match in Malaysia, it doesn't mean we're breaking up. It's sport.
As much as McIlroy got killed last week for walking off the course, it was hard to watch this press conference and not feel impressed by his wisdom. He was open, honest, forthright, everything we want our athletes to be.
Everything Tiger Woods is not.
In fact, Rory McIlroy could play for Chip Kelly. He always wins the day.