THE SPOTLIGHT was set to fall on Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods when the USPGA Championship resumed in Atlanta today – even though Steve Stricker opened with a major record-equalling 63.
Woods made his worst-ever start to a major and unless he can improve significantly on his seven-over-par 77 he will be out of the event tonight and out of the FedEx Cup play-offs as well.
McIlroy, meanwhile, was not even certain to tee off in the second round after a scan gave an initial diagnosis that he had strained a wrist tendon in hitting – stupidly, many people felt – a tree root. Given that it happened on the third hole and, with his arm bandaged, he was having to take his hand off the club the rest of the way round, the 22-year-old US Open champion's level-par 70 was a superb achievement. But whether it was wise to play on was debatable. It was straight off to an orthopaedic specialist afterwards and a decision on whether he continues in the final major of the season was to be made before his 8.35am (1.35pm Irish time) tee-off time.
“It was just like a sharp pain up the forearm and there's a little bit of swelling just on the inside of my wrist,” McIlroy said. “Then it was going up into my elbow and my shoulder. It's throbbing a bit and every time I went through a shot I was in a lot of pain.” As for taking on the shot, the Holywood star stated: “It was dangerous. The tree (root) was maybe a foot in front and I thought if I could make contact with the ball and just let the club go I might get away with it. “In hindsight it would have been better to chip out sideways.” The root looked far closer than a foot away on television.
On the conversations with physios that followed, McIlroy added: “They said, ‘It's your decision if you want to play on and feel comfortable doing that, but if not there's no point risking it'. “It's the last major of the year. I've got six or seven (actually eight) months to the Masters, so I might as well try. CRISIS “I thought about not continuing, but it's a very important tournament and I'm still in the hunt.” Luke Donald and Trevor Immelman are among those who in recent years have had to have wrist surgery and careers have been ended by such incidents.
Woods’ career appears to be at another crisis point. He is only just back from knee and Achilles tendon injuries, and after finishing 37th out of 76 on his return in Akron last week, he had only 19 of the 156-strong field behind him last night. Amazingly, he was three under par and joint leader after five holes, but he finished the day having put two shots into water and 12 into bunkers. After three double bogeys and five bogeys, Woods was furious with himself. “I'm not down. I'm really angry right now,” he said. “There are a lot of words I could use beyond that.”
He added: “I screwed up the whole round.” Stricker became the 23rd player to score 63 at a major – McIlroy had one at St Andrews last year and Woods at Southern Hills in 2007 – with Greg Norman and Vijay Singh both having done it twice. Stricker leads by two from Jerry Kelly and by three from their fellow American Shaun Micheel.