If there is a saving grace for Rory McIlroy, it is that Tiger Woods is developing a habit of mirroring the Northern Irishman's under-performance. McIlroy's strong position at the summit of the world rankings, then, is not under threat for now.
The youngster's confidence may be more fragile. Though it is only three months since McIlroy strode towards such an impressive victory at the Dubai World Championship, rounding off a year in which he topped the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic, 2013 has dealt him harsher treatment. Put bluntly, McIlroy does not currently resemble the same player with regard to body language or the way he is negotiating courses.
McIlroy's wayward, missed-cut performance in Abu Dhabi in January has now been followed by a first-round defeat by Shane Lowry at the WGC Accenture World Match Play Championship. Without being disrespectful to Lowry, who is entitled to savour his famous win, this is not the kind of match McIlroy should lose.
This is especially so when the world No1 had it well within his capabilities to be four up after four holes and failed to convert his chances. Even more glaring was his lack of accuracy with iron shots, even short ones; the sight of him missing the 10th green by 20 yards when starting 132 yards away was a snapshot of current problems. Lowry, the lowest-ranked player in the field, capitalised just as any unforgiving opponent would.
"I probably would have lost by more if I had played someone else in the field," McIlroy acknowledged. "It wasn't a great quality match. But it would have been nice to get."
Inevitably chatter turns towards the so-called curse of Nike. McIlroy's form dip has coincided with his high-profile and lucrative change in equipment, a matter few onlookers are of a mind to view as coincidence even if McIlroy himself disagrees.
"I was missing a lot of irons," he added. "I felt like I drew the ball really well and I hit it well off the tee. I just need to take advantage of the driving I have been doing. It is more a timing thing than anything else. Everything else was actually pretty good out there. I just need to go and work on them [the irons].
"I'm hitting the ball so much better off the tee, which is a positive. I'm also more comfortable around the greens. It shouldn't be a lot of work that I have to do, I just have to go to the range and have a look at it."
McIlroy has, of course, endured problematic spells before and managed to recover in forceful fashion. It would be folly for him to panic so early in the season, given how entirely logical it is that he would not adapt to new equipment instantly. "It will just take time," said the renowned coach Butch Harmon on Friday. The WGC Match Play is also a notoriously unpredictable environment.
Nonetheless, mentally or even subconsciously it would be only logical if the 23-year-old's confidence has taken a knock. Nick Faldo has been the most outspoken critic of McIlroy's Nike move, branding it "dangerous" and suggesting only money was the motivation. McIlroy was clearly irked by that sentiment but Faldo, a six-times major winner, can clearly point to experience in demonstrating that he knows what he is talking about.
McIlroy may now put extra and damaging pressure on himself to prove sceptics such as Faldo wrong and deliver with his new clubs. McIlroy's public rhetoric before the matchplay event was exactly as it had been in Abu Dhabi; that he was playing well and eager to demonstrate as much in tournament conditions. On both occasions all McIlroy has demonstrated is that driving range form is commonly in stark contrast to the real thing.
In a basic playing sense he is running out of competitive time to prepare for a tilt at the Masters. McIlroy will play only three more events before heading for that; his first aim is to ensure that build-up constitutes 12 rounds. Eight are guaranteed, given the WGC Cadillac Championship has no halfway cut.
Woods refused to be despondent after his own Dove Mountain exit, at the hands of Charles Howell III. The 37-year-old has the salvation, at least, of a tournament win already this year despite, like McIlroy, missing the Abu Dhabi cut.
"I played well," Woods said of his Tucson efforts. "I really did. I hit a lot of good shots out there. I didn't make a bogey. Unfortunately it's the nature of the format that means I didn't advance."
He was in illustrious company.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ed McDonald