Lots of Interest in Marquee Pairing at Doral

The top-three players in the world will be paired together in the first round of the $8.75 million WGC-Cadillac Championship, which gets underway Thursday at Doral in Miami.

No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, No. 2 Tiger Woods and No. 3 Luke Donald will start on the 10th hole at 11:53 a.m. (For all the tee times, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/cadillac-championship/tee-times.html.)

All three players have been ranked No. 1 in the world at some point in their careers, with McIlroy now comfortably ensconced in the top spot despite a shaky start to his 2013 season.

After signing a reported $250 million equipment contract with Nike, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman has experienced a difficult adjustment period with his new clubs, which has happened while he's been undergoing some swing problems. After missing the cut in his first tournament of the year, the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship, he was ousted in the first round of the WGC-World Match Play Championship by 64th-seeded Shane Lowry.

Last week at the Honda Classic - where he was the defending champion - McIlroy suffered an even more ignominious exit. Following an opening even-par 70 at the tough Champion course at PGA National, he withdrew from the tournament Friday after only eight holes when he was 7-over par on his second round. He later cited a toothache for the sudden departure.

While talking to reporters en route to his car in the clubhouse parking lot, McIlroy said, "There's not really say much I can say, guys. 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."

McIlroy soon 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."

On Tuesday of this week at Doral, McIlroy talked to reporters for 25 minutes and came clean on several issues. Alongside him were two of his agents from Horizon Sports, Colin Morrissey and Sean O'Flaherty, Nike representatives and his swing coach Michael Bannon.

McIlroy delved deeper into his current situation, saying, "I learned that when the tough gets going, I've got to stick in there a bit more and I've got to grind it out. There's no excuse for quitting and it doesn't set a good example for the kids watching me, trying to emulate what I do. It wasn't good for a whole lot of reasons, for the tournaments, the people coming out watching me. I feel like I let a lot of people down and I am very sorry.

"This year, we knew it was a little bit of a problem, and we were trying to find the balance between making a bit of a swing change and finding some playability in it so that I can actually go out there and play and not think about it.

"But we realized there's no quick fixes in golf. You just have to get to the root of the problem. 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.

"Now I know that it's just purely the swing. The equipment is fantastic. I have no problems at all. 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."

He's also hoping for continued smooth sailing with the media, with which he has always been personable and candid. "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 and given you guys all my thoughts. I don't want there to be friction. It's not like I want it to be a strained relationship because it's going to be a long one, I hope."

So as much as golf fans are interested in watching three of golf's greatest players, they'll also be keeping a close eye on how McIlroy - who has six PGA Tour wins, including two majors, and five on the European Tour - performs this week.