It was that final hole that showed the gap between McIlroy and Woods.
Woods was 40 feet away, just inches outside of where McIlroy's 4-iron had stopped on the tough par 3. He stood to the side, waiting to move in for a read. Woods rapped his putt and posed over it as it slid to the right and disappeared for a birdie. McIlroy's birdie putt missed on the low side, and then he missed the 3-footer coming back.
Only two late birdies — one of them a 5-iron from the first cut on the par-5 eighth to 20 feet for an eagle attempt that narrowly missed — made his score of 73 seem like it wasn't that bad of a day at the office.
It wasn't good, either.
"It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest," McIlroy said. "Hit some good shots. Hit some not-so-good shots. As I've been saying all week, this is a work in progress and I'm working at it and I'm staying patient. I've got another three rounds here to try and work on it a bit more and shoot a few good scores and we'll see what happens."
McIlroy has gone through bad patches before, missing four cuts last summer, including the U.S. Open. All was forgotten at year's end when he had another major, two FedEx Cup playoff events, the season-ender in Dubai and little doubt who was No. 1.
But that was before he changed equipment companies.
And he had never played a tournament under such scrutiny as now, coming off a week in which his frustration level led him to walk off the golf course at the Honda Classic without even finishing the ninth hole of his second round.