Monday 23 January 2017

Rory's wait and see game gets tedious

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

Shane Lowry in action at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC
Shane Lowry in action at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC

Is Rory McIlroy serious about making a comeback in the US PGA Championship next week, or is he just teasing golf fans around the world and amusing himself by posting videos and remaining silent about his intentions?

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McIlroy continues to stir the pot of speculation and controversy about his prospects of playing in the season's last Major just seven weeks after rupturing the AFTL ligament of his left ankle.

All we want to know is: yea or nay? A PGA Championship with the 2014 winner in the field will be immeasurably boosted, and everyone with a smidgin of interest in the game wants to see this charismatic and talented champion back in action and back to his best.

But could he be fully fit, fully healed, and fully prepared to give this PGA Championship defence a really good rattle?

That's an intriguing question.

Looking at the video of McIlroy simulating a golf swing movement by tossing a medicine ball from right to left while standing on what looks like two foam pads, I was struck by the lateral and rolling movement made by the left ankle and foot.

There's pressure going on to that side, and anyone who has known the pain of an ankle strain - never mind a rupture - will wince at the memory evoked by McIlroy's video.

He also put up a few seconds of video of him hitting a driver, with the left ankle protected by a support bandage.

Did Rory feel any pain afterwards? Does that ankle feel strong enough to hold up against the torque imposed by repeated swings and impact through the golf ball?

And what about the stress and strain on the joint of tournament play?

Let's look at the maths for a start. Discounting any practice rounds, and assuming he made it through to the weekend and completed four rounds in the PGA, McIlroy would play 72 full-blooded tee-shots.

He would also be at full power in hitting 56 second shots on par-4s and par-5s, and that's without straying into rough or blasting out of bunkers.

Pitches and chips would exert less pressure on the ankle, and putts would present no problem.

There's also the issue of walking six miles or so per day on undulating terrain at Whistling Straits. We haven't factored in any practice rounds or range work that McIlroy would feel he needs if he wants to be competitive, all of which would add to the ankle's workload.

Colin Montgomerie agrees with that assessment.

"The outside left ankle - we know as right-handed golfers - takes a lot of strain on every shot, especially the distance he hits the ball and how fast that ankle moves through the shot.

"Let's hope he can get back to full fitness and have the confidence to commit to certain shots, when's he's on a downhill lie or an uphill lie. It'll be difficult for him right through to Christmas. Then hopefully next year Rory can get back on track," said Montgomerie.

Brady Riggs, a coach on the PGA Tour, was more optimistic.

"From a technical standpoint, his left foot is functioning on the ground exactly as it did before the injury," Riggs told Golf.com.

"He's doing the exact same move through the ball now that he was prior to the injury. Not only is he swinging hard at it, but he hasn't changed the form from the way it was."

Caution

Former Tour pro Notah Begay, a long-time friend of Tiger Woods, advises caution and patience.

"You get out there and your body wants to go, and your mind knows what to do, but man, if you're not 100 per cent, you risk the rest of the season or hurting something else," he said.

Back in the Bridgestone Invitational arena at Firestone, Ireland's Graeme McDowell was early leader in the clubhouse last night with an opening four-under-par 66.

McDowell fired four birdies on his front nine to turn in 31, and came back in level-par 35 with a birdie on the 10th hole and a bogey on 12.

Shane Lowry made a solid start with a level-par 70, though he was disappointed to bogey his last two holes.

Pádraig Harrington was level-par after nine, but finished on two-over 72.

WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.30pm

Irish Independent

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