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Rory McIlroy aces test at Doral

DORAL, Fla. -- For all the wayward shots, all the frustrating swings, Rory McIlroy hit this one flush. Perhaps the feeling to him was not the same as a purely struck golf ball, but in this particular case, he knocked it stiff.

McIlroy did what he had to do Wednesday at the Trump Doral Resort, where he took questions about his ill-conceived decision to walk off the golf course in mid-round last Friday at the Honda Classic.

He said he was wrong, and he apologized.

Pretty simple stuff, really. Fairways and greens, a close approach, a birdie putt.

Public figures are under immense scrutiny, and they often get hammered for their mistakes. McIlroy, only 23, certainly took a beating for quitting, and it had to be far more painful than the toothache he admitted was not bothersome enough to keep him from playing.

"I wasn't in a good place with my golf game," McIlroy said during a packed news conference in advance of the WGC-Cadillac Invitational. "Mentally, my head was all over the place.

"But at the same time, I have been struggling with my lower right wisdom tooth for over a year. … So yeah, my tooth was bothering me, but it wasn't bothering me enough to quit."

Nice shot, Rory.

To say anything else would have made this story linger even longer. McIlroy is a personable young man who should be excused the occasional gaffe. But quitting is a no-no and trying to rationalize it because of youth is missing the sweet spot.

McIlroy has been a pro for more than five years, plenty of time to learn protocol. Walking off in disgust is viewed poorly at the junior level, so it is especially egregious in the professional ranks. John Daly does it, and we roll our eyes. Rory? Stunning.

"I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't the right thing to do," he said.

How it was handled in the aftermath is now only so much chatter. Mistakes were made, to be sure, but McIlroy and his team are now in the process of trying to move on and get his golf game back to No. 1 status.

And that, ultimately, is what led to all of this.

McIlroy began the year the subject of considerable fanfare, a new lucrative Nike deal and an ad campaign with Tiger Woods kicking it off in Abu Dhabi. But deep down, McIlroy knew something was amiss. Not with the new equipment he'd be using, but with his swing.

Nothing can be more complicated than the nuances of the golf swing, but McIlroy has been working on an issue in his takeaway. His coach, Michael Bannon -- who has taught McIlroy since childhood -- said Wednesday it's simply a "bad habit."

"He was swinging the club quite nicely last summer, even when he had some troubles," said Bannon, referring to a stretch where McIlroy missed four of five cuts, including the U.S. Open. "He's got away from just playing golf and thinking too technically. But we've been working hard at it."

McIlroy spent the weekend at the Bear's Club near his new Florida home in Jupiter, spending full days on the range with Bannon and trying to get back to the swing he somehow lost.

The equipment change, he said, is not part of the problem, and when you consider that McIlroy had issues with the old equipment, it is certainly difficult to blame his woes on new clubs. Nearly all who talk so glowingly about McIlroy and rave about his talent typically say he could swing with a shovel and still be impressive.

"It is a swing change in terms of, I am trying to change my swing, but I'm trying to change it back to where it was," he said. "I don't know if you could classify that as a swing change, I'm just trying to get it back to where I like it, and I've been in that position before, so I can definitely get in that position again."

Making it all the more acute were the poor scores. A 75-75 start in Abu Dhabi in January and a missed cut. A first-round loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. The meltdown at Honda.

For now, McIlroy says he won't be adding any events. He joked about Doral at least being a four-round tournament with no cut. After this, he'll play the Shell Houston Open as his last tune-up before the Masters.

"I want to play well, I want to prove to myself that 2011 and 2012 were good years, but I can continue to have good years for the rest of my career," he said.

Call Wednesday's endeavor at Doral an ace.

Now it's on to the part about the ball and the clubface and working out all those related issues. In a symbolic sense, McIlroy is off to a good start.