Darren Clarke sets alarm bells ringing with Rory McIlroy injury 'joke'
Darren Clarke caused a ripple of alarm to roll through the assembled media and guests at the Association of Golf Writers Dinner on Tuesday night.
Clarke was there to accept the AGW Golfer of the Year award on behalf of Rory McIlroy who is back in Belfast undergoing rehab on his ruptured ankle ligament.
The 2011 Open champion made a comment that "we won't see Rory until January", suggesting that here was the latest news on the World No 1.
But yesterday Clarke and McIlroy's manager Sean O'Flaherty defused that situation, with Clarke saying: "It was only a joke, but everybody took me seriously. I've no idea when Rory will be back, but I was just winding people up a bit."
O'Flaherty agreed with Clarke, saying that it is still too early to give a definite return date for McIlroy.
"Rory is in great spirits. He's at home in Belfast. He's positive and happy and looking forward to working through the process of getting back," he said.
McIlroy's progress depends on his body's healing powers and its response to the treatment he receives, but the big factor is time.
"I am not a doctor. All I know is that until Rory can have the relative movement. He won't be going near a practice ground," said O'Flaherty.
The reality is that the Open moves on without McIlroy and on the eve of battle, the Irish challengers were in good form.
Pádraig Harrington was clad in black in honour of Gary Player, on whose team he was playing in the 4-hole Champion Golfers Challenge in the afternoon.
Player always wore black in his tournament days, and Harrington followed suit for the fun event played on holes 1,2, 17 and 18.
"I'm feeling good, no injuries, practice has gone well. The only thing I'd have liked would be to have 25-mile-an-hour winds in practice, but it's been very calm. Looking forward to it," said Harrington.
Clarke, who was on Arnold Palmer's team for the Champions Challenge, did some work with Dr Bob Rotella, the renowned mind guru, hoping to get in the right frame of mind for the championship.
Graeme McDowell noted that he, Harrington and Clarke, all Major winners, were virtually discounted in the pre-tournament betting and could use that as a little extra motivation.
McDowell was at 150/1, Harrington 175/1 and Clarke 500/1 to win.
Asked would he like to make a mockery of those odds, McDowell responded: "Correct. Come on the Irish. It represents good value."
Shane Lowry loves links golf, and is ready to embrace his enhanced standing with the punters.
"When I get on a links course people fancy me straight away, and I can understand why people are backing me with the form I've shown of late.
"With those two 66s at the start of last week, I'm sure people were heading into the bookies to back me for this week.
"That makes me feel good about myself but what can I say? It doesn't mean anything to me. Does it put me under any more pressure? No.
"It's good to be up there, I suppose, with that mantle. I feel like I've never played as well and I've never been as good mentally," he said.
Paul Dunne, the only Irish amateur in the field, will have plenty of support from family, friends and members of Greystones Golf Club.
This is his second successive appearance in the Open, and he has two targets - to make the cut and try to win the Silver Medal awarded to the top amateur.