Guthrie Leads Honda Classic; McIlroy Withdraws in Mid-Round

In an unusual second round at the 2013 Honda Classic, PGA Tour rookie Luke Guthrie took over the lead with a fine 7-under 63, while defending champion Rory McIlroy withdrew, citing a toothache after going 7-over par through eight holes. The $6 million PGA Tour stop began Thursday on the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Guthrie, a 23-year-old former All-American at Illinois who qualified for the PGA Tour after racking up two titles last year on the developmental Tour, began play Friday on the 10th tee. After going out in 3-under 32, he added four more birdies to reach 9-under 131, one stroke ahead of Michael Thompson (65) and two in front of Boo Weekley (67) and Canadian Graham DeLaet (68).

Guthrie had a sense that he was going to play well this week after talking to his college coach, Mike Small, a wonderful player in his own right. "He asked me how I was going and I said this is the best offense I've had on a golf course in awhile," Guthrie told about a conversation he had with Small Thursday night.

"I was really hitting good, crisp shots, firing at flags, and I felt like I could have shot 5-under (Thursday) pretty quickly. I was pretty excited to get back out here and kept it rolling." Of his immediate goals, the Champaign, Ill, native added, "I keep it pretty simple. I want to win."

As for McIlroy, who opened with an even-par 70 Thursday, it was a shock when he suddenly left the course. Starting on the No. 10 tee, he posted two bogeys, a double-bogey on the par-4 11th and a triple on the par-4 16th before walking straight to his car and leaving the Champion course.

McIlroy, a two-time major winner with six wins in the U.S. and five in Europe, has had issues with scoring since signing a huge contract with Nike two months ago. Right after switching to the new equipment he missed the cut in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship and, last week as the overall top seed, was unceremoniously ousted in the first round of the WGC-World Match Play Championship by 64th-seeded Shane Lowry.

McIlroy didn't mention to reporters any tooth pain as he headed to his car Friday. "There's not really say much I can say, guys," he said. "I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?"

When asked if there was anything physically wrong with him, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman answered, "No." And then when asked about any swing problems, he replied, "Yeah, I really don't know what's going on."

A representative from his management firm, Horizon Sports, initially told reporters: "He's not hurt, he's not sick, and he won't answer his phone."

Before the wisdom-tooth announcement was made, playing partner Ernie Els was taken by surprise as McIlroy made no mention of any physical issues during the round. "It's unfortunate," golf's "Big Easy" said. "I'm a great fan of Rory's, but I don't think that was the right thing to do."

Right after he left, McIlroy sent out a tweet that said, "Apologies to all at the Honda. A tough day made impossible by severe tooth pain. Was desperate to defend title but couldn't play on. Gutted."

McIlroy later issued a statement released by the Tour and a mea culpa for his departure. "I sincerely apologize to the Honda Classic and PGA Tour for my sudden withdrawal.

"I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future. It began bothering me again last night, so I relieved it with Advil. It was very painful again this morning, and I was simply unable to concentrate. It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners."

When hearing of McIlroy's reason for withdrawing Els backtracked on his initial response. "Obviously something was seriously bothering him, and he was not going to make the cut and probably didn't want to continue playing that way," Els said. "I've played like that before. It's embarrassing. You don't want to be out there while you feel like that, get me out of here."

The other player in McIlroy's threesome, Mark Wilson, also understood, although he didn't know there was a problem during the round. "I didn't notice anything," Wilson said. "He wasn't playing the way the world No. 1 plays normally. Didn't hit the ball where he wanted to, and he's a true gentleman, though. It's not like he was treating Ernie and myself in a different way. He was upset with his golf, and I guess he had enough for the week."

McIlroy's good friend, Graeme McDowell, said he was alongside his fellow Ulsterman at the practice range before the start of Friday's round. "It wasn't the normal display of 'flushery' that we normally see," McDowell told reporters.

"I felt like he was a little off with his golf swing. There were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me. And that's not like him. It's normally a display. It's normally a clinic. Normally superlatives being thrown out from the coach and the caddie in the background. It was a little silent this morning. That, to me, is the sign of a guy lacking a little bit of belief in his game."

McDowell later told, "I'm sure he knows what he needs to do. Only he knows where he's at in his own mind. We all experience moments of this in our career. This is only a mini-crisis. We're 2.1 events into the season for Rory. I look at the Match Play as a complete anomaly. He's missed two cuts, big deal. There's a lot of golf left."

Tied for fifth at 6-under 134 are Lee Westwood (68), Geoff Ogilvy (66), Doug LaBelle II (68), Charles Howell III (67), Sean O'Hair (68) and Justin Rose (66).

Another stroke back lurk McDowell (68), Robert Streb (70), Brian Stuard (69), Nicholas Thompson (66), Lucas Glover (66), Tom Gillis (68) and Billy Horschel (69).

First-round leader Camilo Villegas followed up his opening 64 with a disastrous 77 that included five bogeys and a double. Playing on limited status this year, the 31-year-old Colombian slipped all down to 1-over 141 and missed the cut of 140 by a stroke.

Making the cut right on the number was Tiger Woods, who carded his second straight even-par 70. After two bogeys and a pair of birdies Thursday, Woods experienced a wilder Friday, posting four birdies, two bogeys and a double on the par-4 13th hole.

Woods is still sorting out his game. "I hit it really good (Thursday) and got nothing out of it," he told reporters. "Today, I didn't hit it very good and got a lot out of it. I had it going early and then I would lose it."

When questioned about McIlroy's withdrawal, Woods understands what the youngster is going through and how the critics so readily jump on the negative bandwagon during such times. "Most of the people that are commentating or analyzing don't understand the game of golf, so I don't have a problem with it. They don't see the range sessions and they don't see the practice at home. Plus, they generally don't understand the game, especially at this level."

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