Tuesday 20 March 2018

McIlroy: I'm ready for action

World No 1 insists he's 100pc fit to defend PGA​ title after injury blow

After his recent ankle woes, Rory McIlroy is keen to show he has a spring back in his step
After his recent ankle woes, Rory McIlroy is keen to show he has a spring back in his step

Liam Kelly​

RORY McIlroy is confident his left ankle injury has healed well enough for him to defend his US PGA title at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin.

McIlroy practised on the course yesterday and afterwards revealed that he had intended to come back to action this week, irrespective of the tournament.

His only concern now is ring-rustiness as his last competitive round was on June 21 in the US Open at Chambers Bay.

McIlroy injured the ankle on July 4 playing soccer and missed last month's Open Championship at St Andrews.

He revealed he has been hitting golf balls since July 28, and played four rounds at Quinta do Lago in Portugal last week before flying to America for the US PGA.

"It felt like it was the right time to come (back), regardless of whether it was this week," McIlroy said. "I was ready to go, whether it was this week or whether it was some other tournament.

"It wasn't like I was trying to get back for this. It just so happened that I feel good enough to go."

Asked if he felt he could be 100pc competitive by Thursday's opening round, McIlroy replied: "Definitely."

"To go back on a soccer pitch, it wouldn't be quite ready. But to do what I need to do this week, to play golf, it's 100pc."

McIlroy is scheduled to play the first two rounds of the Championship alongside Masters and US Open winner Jordan Spieth and British Open champion Zach Johnson.

The 26-year-old four-time Major winner revealed he had considered playing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Akron which was won by Shane Lowry, but opted for private sessions in Portugal instead.

He also said he had been able to hit golf balls in practice since July 28 which was 24 days after he ruptured the ATFL ligament of his ankle, and that his only concern is competitive sharpness.

"I was anticipating feeling a bit rusty and a bit out of sorts for the first couple of weeks.

"I started hitting balls on the 28th of July, and it feels good. I've played quite a lot of golf since starting to hit balls, and it feels good.

"I think the one thing for me was if my short game was sharp but I've been chipping and putting since basically this happened.

"I was putting when I had the (support) boot on. I've kept that part of the game sharp, so everything feels pretty good," he said.

There were no signs of adverse reactions as McIlroy continued his assessment of the challenge facing the field this week at Whistling Straits.


He was finished his on-course work around 11.0 am local time, and afterwards bounded up the steps leading to the exit.

"I've had two really good looks at it, Saturday and yesterday. I played one ball on Saturday, sort of did my homework on the front nine yesterday, and played one ball on the back nine.

"I did all my homework for the back nine there today. It's all good," he added.

The comeback just six weeks after suffering the injury playing soccer with friends can only be fully assessed by the end of this week.

A number of observers including former Tour pro Notah Begay and Colin Montgomerie, suggested McIlroy is coming back too early for comfort, but the player has full confidence the ankle can stand up to the rigours of tournament play.

"I can go at it hard as I like. It actually feels better when I go at it as hard as I want, because my left foot sort of spins out the way whenever I hit the driver anyway.

"If my left foot was to stay completely flat, if it was going to roll onto the left side like a lot of guys do, then I would obviously probably create a few problems.

"Because mine sort of spins out of the way, it takes a lot of pressure off it," he said.

McIlroy has in the past shown the ability to contend strongly after a long period out of the game.

He displayed that quality in Abu Dhabi early in the year when he finished second after a seven-week break through Christmas.

"It's ok coming back and playing Abu Dhabi as your first week back, but coming back and playing a Major, it's a bit different.

"That's why I was playing with one ball, trying to keep score. Just trying to get as many rounds in as possible.

"I played 72 holes walking in Portugal last week and played pretty good. I kept score there as well, so everything feels good.

"It's just that sharpness and that competitive edge, that's the thing you hope is there when you come back," he said.

Jordan Spieth is edging closer to McIlroy's world No 1 spot and he is acutely aware of the threat. He normally checks the rankings every Monday.

"Obviously it's important. I've made that clear. It's been a year since I got it back and in saying that I didn't check it this morning. Playing well and winning golf tournaments takes care of the ranking.

"That's what I've always said. It's nice, it's a great position to be in, but playing well, competing in golf tournaments like this, and ultimately winning them is what keeps you there. That's my main focus this week," he said.

McIlroy took time out to watch Lowry's win at Firestone and was delighted for his friend.

"It was fantastic. We played 18 in the morning and came back to the house we're renting and watched it. It was great.

"Once he got into the lead and got a couple of wonder shots - he hit that shot on 10 which was incredible, and he held some big par putts.

"He held a great one on 14, and he held a great one on 17, so I texted him last night and said it was a pretty ballsy victory," said McIlroy.

The prospect of McIlroy and Lowry playing the 2016 Olympics together for Ireland is a strong possibility.


Irish Independent

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