No two ways about it. Earlier today, Rory McIlroy choked away the Honda Classic. Though once having a comfortable lead -- six over par during an 11 hole stretch while hitting balls in the water and finding more bunkers than Dick Cheney isn't going to get it done against a world class field. He would lose in a playoff.
On the other hand -- Tiger Woods withdrew from the tournament, citing back pain during the middle of his final round. It should be noted that, after a sparkling round of 65 on Saturday to move up, Woods was falling faster than a submarine with screen doors on Sunday. Basically, he was stinking it up -- bad.
The irony is that McIlroy withdrew from the very same tournament a year ago, while he was also stinking it up. McIlroy claimed a wisdom tooth was hurting him so bad he couldn't concentrate.
Much was made about McIlroy walking off the course at that time. He got ripped in the media, and even other notable golfers, such as Ernie Els, said it wasn't the proper thing to do.
Thing is -- only Rory and Tiger know the truth. The rest of us are left to wonder whether they really had serious pain going on -- or became so frustrated and/or embarrassed with their terrible play on those days that they took their ball(s) and went home rather than face further humiliation.
Yet they are treated differently by the media when such things happen. As mentioned above, when McIlroy packed it in a year ago, he faced great scrutiny, and many questioned his very character and dedication to the game. He's done it once. However, Tiger has bailed out of tournaments 6 times over his career, citing various reasons ranging from neck pain, leg pain, back pain, once a mysterious illness, and yet another time for no apparent physical reason whatsoever. Only the leg problem was ever substantiated. But Tiger never faced the same scrutiny and/or criticism. Quite the opposite. Rather than question his character, people are highly concerned over his "injury". Arm-chair doctors -- otherwise known as talking heads and groupies -- were quick to give their diagnoses this time around.
Tiger has an inflamed lumbar disc in his lower back. They even showed a computer-generated mock-up of the human spine. The lower lumbar region was colored bright red, and glowing, even throbbing. It was just about enough to make the average fan gulp a couple Advils in sympathy pains. Poor Tiger.
In fairness, a few decades ago, yours truly experienced an impacted wisdom tooth, and that was no fun, to say the least. Just a few years ago, I had a problem with my fifth lumbar, the lowermost disc in the back, right above the tailbone. I couldn't sit for more than a couple minutes at a time. Throw in the sciatica thing running down the leg, and the pain was excruciating at times. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy -- if I had one. So yeah, I know what that sort of stuff feels like.
Wisdom teeth are one thing. You get them yanked or cut out by an oral surgeon, and after a few miserable days, one is pretty well good to go. Back (neurological) problems are very different. They take a long time to heal properly, often involving months of physical therapy -- not exactly a leisurely stroll in the park either.
So how to tell the difference as to whether somebody is really in distress or using it as a cop-out because he's playing so poorly?
In Rory's case, there's no excuse this time around, nor did he attempt to make one. He choked, and he owned it.
The plot thickens with Tiger. If he really has a bad disc in his back, and it's pulsing, pulsing, pulsing ala Edgar Allan Poe's telltale heart, there's no way it fully heals in a month. Woods will no doubt go into seclusion again.
But guess what's about a month away? The Masters. The most coveted tournament of them all. If Tiger is a no-show for that, then we know him walking off the course at Palm Springs was legit. But if he shows up at Augusta National the picture of health and starts tearing it up while banging out 325 yard drives -- then we will know something else.
Of course, the media will have conveniently forgotten about all this by that time. Far be it from them to hold Woods to the same ethical on-course player standards as they would anybody else.
We shall see......