Sunday 25 February 2018

McIlroy may take rest of year off to focus on recovery

The Holywood star admits he hasn’t allowed injury time to heal. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
The Holywood star admits he hasn’t allowed injury time to heal. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy admits he's wrestling with the career-defining choice between the FedEx Cup play-offs and taking the rest of the year off to allow his niggling rib injury time to heal.

The world No 4 saw his winless streak in Majors stretched to three years at Quail Hollow after a stop-start season that's been marked by the stress fracture he suffered testing new equipment in January.

The four-time Major champion carded four birdies in a three-under-par 68 to finish the US PGA on one-over par, as Shane Lowry shot 72 to finish four shots further back.

A middle-of-the-pack finish was not what McIlroy was looking for and facing an eight-month wait before the Masters, he knows the time is ripe to allow his injury to heal.

Concerned he is getting into bad habits with his swing, he said: "Look, I don't know what I'm going to do.

"You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks' time. It really depends."

Former world No 1 David Duval believes McIlroy's swing is deteriorating because of the compensations he is making for his injury and "could do himself a big service" by taking time off now.

McIlroy would like to play the FedEx Cup series and then tee it up in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland in October.

But he also knows that if he does not allow his injury to heal properly, he may be doing himself even more damage.

"Right now, I can feel my left rhomboid (muscle) going into spasm," he said. "It's sort of the way it has been the last few weeks. I have upped my practice coming into these two events because I wanted to feel like I was in a good place in my game.

"Right now, it's a tough one because I go out there and play and shoot decent scores, but when I come off the course, I feel my left rhomboid going into spasm. The inside of my left arm goes numb.

"So I don't know what to do. I have got this next week off to assess what I need to go forward."

While he can swing the club freely, he admitted he's getting into bad habits because he is protecting his left side.

"I am turning the ball way too much from right to left by swinging left," he said. "Swinging the other way hurts me, so I am hitting big draws just to protect that side."

He knows the only solution is time off, but he must decide quickly how much rest he needs, having overdone his practice to make up for lost time and aggravated his injury further.

"Time," he said. "That's all it is.

"Once I started practising again, I didn't build up the volume gradually. I went from zero to hitting balls from three or four hours a day. That aggravated it a little bit.

"I just haven't allowed it the time to fully heal. I wanted to play the season. I feel like I'm capable of playing well and winning and putting rounds together. If I want to challenge on a more consistent basis, I need to get 100 per cent healthy."

Asked why he'd feel obliged to tee it up in The Northern Trust in New York in 10 days' time, McIlroy said: "I don't know. I feel like a sense of, not duty, but I've missed a lot of time already.

"If I'm capable of playing, I feel like why shouldn't you. But then, at the same time, if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play. So, again, it's a Catch 22. We'll see what happens. Assess my options in the next few days."

The 28-year-old flew back to Northern Ireland last night and plans to catch up with his fitness guru, Dr Steve McGregor, later this week to discuss his options.

What's frustrating him is that he cannot practise with the intensity he needs. And, as Duval warned, he is also picking up bad habits

"It's tough," he said of his Major drought. "I want to get back into that winner's circle. You don't want to be teeing off at 9.45 on the final rounds of a major on a Sunday. That is not where you want to be.

"As I said, I have a good bit of time to get healthy and address a few things going forward. The next big thing is April and that's really what my focus will be on from now until then."

Goal

As for Lowry, he was pleased to finish in the top five for strokes gained putting and while he didn't achieve his goal of moving into the Top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings, he has one last chance in this week's Wyndham Championship.

"There's plenty of positives," Lowry said after bogeys at the seventh, ninth and 11th with three birdies in four holes from the 12th before closing with a bogey. "I felt like I played nicely. I putted as good as I've putted for a long, long time and my iron play at times was very good.

"I won't need much rocking to sleep tonight, I tell you. It's tough out there. It's warm. It's wet. It's a slog, and you have to concentrate over every shot.

"This is as hard a golf course as I've played. If the golf course had played like it did Thursday and Friday morning all week, it would have been like ridiculous."

Admitting he's finding it hard to stay patient as he waits for a decent result that could get him back into the world's Top 50, he said: "I need a really good result next week to make the play-offs, so I will just go out there and see what I need to do and try and do it.

"I just need to keep fighting, keep going."

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