Rory McIlroy blamed mental fatigue, some fans blamed his tennis superstar girlfriend, while organisers did not want to blame anyone after the world number one crashed out of the UBS Hong Kong Open yesterday.
McIlroy failed to make the cut at the US$2 million tournament despite being paid an appearance fee in excess of HK$6 million, according to some estimates. But a sorry display over the first two rounds - shooting a three-over-par 73 followed by 72 - condemned the Northern Irishman to an embarrassing early exit with a five-over-par total of 145.
It was the eighth time this year McIlroy has failed to make the cut and only the second time as defending champion - the first was at the US Open in June.
"I'm not sure if the energy in trying to sew up the Race To Dubai and competing in the FedEx Cup [in the US] has taken more out of me than maybe I thought because, while I am feeling okay physically, mentally I feel really tired," he said.
The early exit disappointed many fans, a large number who turned up yesterday hoping the 23-year-old from Holywood would live up to his promise - "Don't write me off" - after a poor first-round display.
"I feel very let down," said Benny Ng Tsz-ming. "I think it was because he had eyes only for his girlfriend all the time [and his mind wasn't on the tournament]. I think they just came to Hong Kong for dating, not golfing."
Nelson Chau Pak-kei, who was also in the gallery following McIlroy's round of woe, said: "This is a waste of government money. I don't want to pay my tax this year."
Long-time supporter of the Hong Kong Open Andrew Kingham said: "This is a huge blow and a great shame for the tournament. He looked as if he was swinging it well, but he wasn't scoring."
Andrew Ma, former chief of the now-defunct Sports Development Board, added: "I think Rory didn't care."
McIlroy's appearance fees had been paid from the government's Mega Events Fund, which this year doubled its contribution to a record HK$16 million.
Tournament organisers tried to put on a brave face, saying: "While we would like nothing better than for Rory to mount a strong bid to defend his title over the weekend, we realise the very nature of golf, and indeed sport in general, dictates that players, however good, cannot be at their very best each and every week. Like us, he was obviously disappointed that he could not find his very best on the course, but it certainly was not for want of trying."
McIlroy was accompanied to Hong Kong by Danish girlfriend Wozniacki, who is 10th in the WTA world rankings. She is believed to have picked up a bug and the word around Fanling yesterday was that McIlroy had caught it and was feeling below par. Although he looked jaded, McIlroy insisted his lethargy was all mental.
McIlroy won both money-list races - more than US$8 million on the US PGA Tour and €3,696,597 (36.4 million) in the European Tour's Race To Dubai. With both in the bag, it was suggested he was struggling for motivation and the two-time major champion admitted it.
"When you achieve something you want to achieve so bad, like the Race To Dubai, there is a letdown considering there are still two events remaining." McIlroy said. "Of course, you're going to miss cuts in your career, but it's not nice and it's a tough pill to swallow when you're the defending champion in a tournament.
"But while there's a part of me that perhaps wished my year had ended as soon as I wrapped up the Race To Dubai, I now look back over the last couple of years wondering why did I stretch myself so much."
"But all I'm thinking about now is probably heading over to Dubai," said McIlroy, who will join his be joined by his parents at the European Tour's season-ending US$8 million DP Dubai World Championship next week.
Topics: Hong Kong Open Rory McIlroy Mega Events Fund