By Simon Evans
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy should not let the pressure of his switch to Nike clubs distract him and focus instead on resolving his swing troubles, fellow-Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell said after the world number one withdrew from the Honda Classic.
McIlroy, who quit after eight holes of the second round on Friday, caused some confusion by initially telling reporters he was in a "bad place mentally" before later issuing a statement blaming a sore wisdom tooth for his early departure after playing his first eight holes seven over-par.
Since the twice major winner switched clubs from Titleist to Nike in January, in a deal reported to be worth as much as $250 million over 10 years, there has been speculation about whether he would be badly affected by the move.
Former world number one Nick Faldo labeled McIlroy's switch "dangerous" and the Northern Irishman has faced frequent questions about whether he has been able to adjust to the new clubs.
"I'm sure the guy has a lot on his mind. When you start trying to prove things to other people and you stop playing for yourself it is a very dangerous place to be," McDowell told Irishgolfdesk.com.
"He is playing to prove things to you guys (the media), playing to the naysayers and people who said he shouldn't have done what he has done.
"Everyone is saying he can't do it with Nike equipment. This game is an extremely difficult sport, especially when you start playing for other people," said the 2010 U.S. Open winner.
TECHNIQUE NOT EQUIPMENT
Prior to this week's tournament, McIlroy had said his early season problems were more with his swing than the adjustment to the new clubs and McDowell concurred.
"To me it is not equipment, it is all technique and a little bit of belief inside his own head. He will be okay. He's a young and very talented individual," said McDowell.
"To me he is not swinging the club the way he was late summer last year. His familiar right to left ball flight has gone to a little bit of a cut shot. He doesn't have that flight we are all used to seeing."
McIlroy has played just four full professional rounds in three months, missing the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and suffering a surprise first-round exit in the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship last week in Arizona.
For McDowell, who defended McIlroy's switch to Nike on the grounds that "there is not a player in this field would have turned that contract down" the 2012 PGA Championship winner needs to get some rounds under his belt.
"We've had some time off. He's rusty. I know where he is at. (But) he is a superstar, a global superstar at that it can only be pressure magnified. He will get over it. He is a smart kid.
"He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen and once he starts believing in himself again he will be back."
McDowell said his compatriot did not look himself on the range before his ill-fated Friday round.
"His demeanor looks a little different. I warmed up beside him on the rang… there were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me and that's not like him.
"It is normally a display, normally a clinic with superlatives from the coach and caddie being thrown out in the background and it wasn't like that.
"That's a sign to me of a guy who is lacking a bit of belief in his game and a bit of belief in his technique."
McDowell, though, is sure that McIlroy would be back to his best eventually.
"You don't write that kid off. He has got the X-factor and he will be okay."
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by John Mehaffey)