Thursday 14 December 2017

McIlroy battles on after damaging wrist with high-risk shot

Rory McIlroy damaged his wrist performing a high-risk shot
Rory McIlroy damaged his wrist performing a high-risk shot

RORY McILROY needed to break through the pain barrier to keep his PGA Championship hopes alive after badly jarring his right wrist on the third hole ... yet Tiger Woods endured even greater torment at Atlanta Athletic Club yesterday.

Staggering is the only word which adequately describes Tiger's implosion on the Highlands Course yesterday as he slumped to a seven-over-par 77, his worst opening round at the Major Championships.

Tiger's travails even overshadowed a sensational seven-under-par 63 by Steve Stricker as he equalled the lowest-ever round shot at the Majors, a record he now shares with McIlroy, Woods and 20 others. Vijay Singh and Greg Norman are the only two to have done it twice.

The sense of shock at Tiger's collapse was compounded after he'd raced into a share of the early lead on three-under-par in his first five holes, starting at 10. This opening stretch led most observers to believe that the former World No 1 might have rediscovered his magic touch with his physical fitness.

His birdie on the challenging 14th hole, for example, was a match for any he's landed in 14 Major Championship victories, including four at the US PGA.

After he'd drilled his tee shot down the tree line on the right and over the nest of bunkers guarding the dogleg, Tiger's ball came to rest in the heart of the fairway. Left with little more than an eight-iron to the elevated green, he played the shot exquisitely to four feet and holed the putt.

Yet Tiger had flattered to deceive and any illusion of greatness would be shattered within minutes as Woods hit his tee shot at 15 into the water guarding the front right hand side of the green at this excruciating par-three hole, which played 253 yards yesterday.

The four-iron tee shot there was the first real pressure shot Woods faced and he wasn't equal to it. Clearly rattled, he'd fail to get up and down after the penalty drop, leaving his 15 footer for bogey well short of the cup.

If his putting had looked assured on the opening five holes, his confidence simply vanished on that hole and Tiger would be humbled by his playing companion, Davis Love II, as America's 48-year-old Ryder Cup captain smoothly completed a first-round 68, nine shots better than Woods.

Woods plumbed further depths on 16, hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker; yanking his next onto a high bank short and left of the green; chunking a wedge into sand short of the green before getting up and down for an ugly five.

A double-bogey six after visiting the sand twice at 18, off the tee and, after laying-up at this gruelling par four, at greenside, sent Woods through the turn in two-over and with his spirit clearly broken.

The misery continued as he bogeyed one, two and four and put his ball in the water at six on his way to another double-bogey there. The final ignomy came in the shape of another dropped shot at nine as Tiger completed his second worst round at the Majors.

At least when Woods shot an 81 on Saturday at the 2002 Open at Muirfield, he'd been battered by a vicious rain storm. There were no such excuses yesterday and Tiger knew it.

"I'm not down," he said. "I'm really angry right now. There are a couple of words I could use beyond that."

There were only a handful of players below Woods at the final Major of the season -- the one he has won four times and which he was so looking forward to after missing the US Open and The Open through injury.

Stricker's seven birdies, in stark contrast, included the 15th and 18th, two of the three that Woods double-bogeyed. The 44-year-old American was already seven under after 14 holes, but parred his way in from there, missing a 12-foot chance on the 426-yard ninth. Instead of becoming the first to shoot 62 in Majors therefore, he had to settle for a 63.

Stricker led by two from another native of Wisconsin, Jerry Kelly, who still had two holes to play and on the putt to break the record the 44-year-old, yet to win a Major, said: "Sometimes when you know it's for something extra special you dig a little deeper, but I can't complain.

"My ambition was just to hit it on the fairways. It's a very difficult course from the bunkers and rough."

Rory McIlroy bravely carried on after injuring his right wrist playing a high-risk shot to the left of the third hole. The 22-year-old's drive down the 475-yard hole had finished against a tree root, but he tried a full-blooded second rather than just chipping out onto the fairway.

McIlroy's club came flying out of his hands and he immediately felt his wrist. The world number four was handed an ice pack to apply and then given a lengthy examination on the fifth green.

Many might have thought it not worth carrying on with so many holes still to play, but PGA Tour physio Digby Watt said the Northern Irish star should be all right to complete his round. McIlroy was scheduled to receive an MRI scan on the damaged joint once he finished.

"From what we can tell it looks like he should be okay," Watt said.

"The nerve that runs through his hand all the way up to his shoulder could be a bit irritated -- we hope it's not too bad.

"It's hard to tell, but you can play through those. Hopefully he's ruled out any fractures or tears and as long as he ices it he should hopefully be able to get through the round without any damage."

McIlroy, having bogeyed the hole where the incident happened, even got up and down from a bunker on the long fifth and then sank a 20-foot putt for another birdie at the next.

Another bogey came on the eighth before his arm was bandaged up and he did well to par the ninth for an outward level-par 35, seven adrift of Stricker.

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