Rory McIlroy's cruel break robs us of major clash with Jordan Spieth
Published 07/07/2015 | 02:30
A picture paints a thousand words, every one of them spelling pain.
Rory McIlroy's Instagram scoop showing him on crutches, his left foot in a surgical boot after rupturing ankle ligaments during a kickabout with his mates, is the last thing he or golf needs nine days before the British Open Championship.
McIlroy has not ruled himself out of defending the crown he won at Hoylake last year and more scans are planned in the next 48 hours, but an outlook that sees him putting a tee in the ground at St Andrews a week on Thursday errs on the enthusiastic side of optimistic.
Recovery time for mortals is estimated at six months. For athletes like McIlroy, expert opinion suggests he might be back in two to three.
Positive as he is trying to be about a quick recovery, McIlroy would need the healing powers of Zeus to be playing again by September, let alone next week. His team rate his chances no higher than 10 per cent.
With the Open starting on July 16 and the US PGA Championship five weeks hence, a defence of the two Majors he won at the end of last summer appears unlikely.
That's a real pity because his absence denies us a meeting of golf's superpowers at the home of the game.
Between them, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth possess all four Majors. They sit in a space all their own at the top of the world rankings, fuelling anticipation of a high-summer showdown on the Fife Coast.
Inevitably, comparisons have been made to Tiger Woods at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines where he famously won with a torn ACL ligament in his knee and a stress fracture of his tibia.
The difference is that McIlroy cannot even put any weight on his left leg at this stage.
Certainly, McIlroy has the right man by his side. Steve McGregor, his fitness coach, is a qualified doctor and is recognised as a specialist in sports injuries.
McGregor is with McIlroy in his home town of Holywood and along with his parents, Gerry and Rosie, as well as his extended family close by, the golfer is said to be in good spirits. Yet deep down he must be dreading the prospect of being absent.
Never mind his wish to re-affirm his position as the game's premier player and so stop Spieth from emulating Ben Hogan in winning the season's opening three Majors, McIlroy has hailed St Andrews as "my favourite golf course in the world".
At the 2010 Open, the then 21-year-old became the first player in the history of the Majors to open with a 63.
The legendary links bit back in the high winds as he shot a humiliating 80 the next day, but McIlroy finished 69-68 to claw back respectability with third place.
Seven of McIlroy's last 10 rounds there have been sub-70, with four of them sub-67.
The Old Course plainly suits him and, despite Spieth prevailing at the Masters and the US Open already this year, McIlroy was the outright favourite at 4/1.
McIlroy had been moving impressively through the gears, lighting up the final day of the US Open at Chambers Bay last month with arguably the best ball-striking of his career.
Had his putter been remotely warm and the course not beset by random features, the field might have been running for cover.
Predictably, question marks flashed across the internet as to why he was playing football so soon before a Major.
It is not the first time McIlroy has injured himself in a kickabout. In December 2013, he sprained his ankle, but was only sidelined for a week.
When asked soon after whether he would ban himself from playing he replied: "Yeah, sort of - probably not a good idea to play anymore."
However, McIlroy has always expressed his wish "to live as normal a life as possible" and his down-to-earth attitude is regarded as one of his charms. Alas, it seems his desire to stay real will come at a huge cost.
Spieth is at the centre of a different debate, having committed to play the John Deere Classic this week, one of the smallest events on the PGA Tour. He has only one sighting of St Andrews under his belt, four years ago, and that was in September when conditions bore little relation to the hard and fast terrain he will encounter next week.
Should he make the cut as expected in Illinois, the earliest he can be at St Andrews is early afternoon on Monday, not great preparation, but at least he will be walking without the aid of crutches.
Meanwhile, leading figures in the golfing world were quick to offer their support to McIlroy.
Luke Donald was one of the first to react via social media, tweeting: "Hope you get back out there soon. Wishing you a speedy recovery."
Via the same platform Ian Baker-Finch said: "So sorry to hear the terrible news. Look after yourself Rory. We all hope to see you at the Open and the PGA Championship."
Sam Torrance, a vice-captain at Gleneagles, where McIlroy helped to fire Europe to Ryder Cup success with a spectacular demolition of Rickie Fowler in the singles on the final day, was stunned to hear the news when intercepted at Wimbledon.
"I'm in complete shock," he said. "That's a big blow [to the Open] if he misses it.
"That's obviously bad news and I'd just wish him all the best and hope he can make a quick recovery." (© Independent News Service)