AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is an inevitable moment when a young golfer sheds the cloak of innocence and he's subjected to greater scrutiny, and eventually, criticism.
Tiger Woods had it when, in his first year on tour, he skipped a college awards dinner and then told some off-color jokes in a magazine. Sergio Garcia, not long after his theatrics at Medinah in 1999, threw a shoe in a European Tour event, then flipped the bird at some spectators at Bethpage a couple years later.
Michelle Wie went from giggling schoolgirl to a pouty teenager whose ambition -- and endorsement contract -- began to dwarf her playing resume.
And then there's Rory McIrory, the 19-year-old "golden boy of European golf," as my good friend Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian called him in today's paper. After flirting with contention through most of the second round on Friday, McIroy stumbled home by playing the last three holes in five over, and then sent the press room here into a frenzy when he kicked the sand in a bunker on the 18th hole, possibly violating a rule.
This would be a big deal for any golfer in contention in the Masters, but when it's McIlroy, who depending on which European tabloid you read is either the second coming of Nick Faldo, Old Tom Morris, or Gandhi, it's bigger than that.
Given time to think about it, McIlroy probably could have picked a dozen different things he would have done differently yesterday afternoon -- starting with avoiding the bunker altogether on 18, and then by not blowing past the press after signing his scorecard.
But he's still here, and for that, he's fortunate. Called in by Augusta National rules officials around 8:40 p.m. Friday night, McIlory reviewed the CBS tape of the events on 18, was forced to explain himself, but still somehow managed to escape with a tee time for today. Whether he was given a slap on the wrist or a dressing down of sorts we might never know. Perhaps that part comes today when he finally faces the press.
-- Sam Weinman