Tuesday 23 January 2018

Patched-up McIlroy back to make cut

in Atlanta

RORY McILROY is cut from the same cloth as Seve Ballesteros or the young Sergio Garcia. None of these guys would ever shirk a challenge or the opportunity to display their mastery, even if it placed them in harm's way.

So, as soon as McIlroy saw his ball lying perilously close to a thick tree root to the left of the third fairway on Thursday, he thought not of the danger but of the opportunity to make an unforgettable shot.

It's the same swashbuckling nature which persuaded Garcia to hit that ridiculous iron from between the roots and behind the trunk of a tree on the 69th hole of the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. Who will forget El Nino skipping excitedly across that 16th fairway, hopping high in an effort to follow the flight of his ball?

McIlroy wasn't as lucky. Instead of pulling off a career shot, he slammed his seven-iron into that tree root and injured his right wrist and forearm and led to an irritating rash of second guessing in TV studios and print.

Thankfully, an MRI scan and a bevy of specialists at a local clinic found no serious long-term damage had been done and the 22-year-old was cleared to play in yesterday with a light splint under heavy strapping on his wrist and, he revealed, discomfort not pain as a constant companion.

"Percentage-wise, I'm maybe 70 or 75pc okay, something like that," said McIlroy, who strained pronator and flexor muscles in his forearm, stressed a tendon in his wrist and tweaked a stinger nerve which leads up into his back and neck.

Saying there'd been a couple of points on the course on Thursday where he thought it might have been better to walk in, McIlroy confirmed had it not been a Major Championship he "probably would have stopped".

And in reply to those who wondered about his prospects of picking up a second Major title this weekend, McIlroy said: "I feel as if I can still make birdies out there. You know, if I didn't think I could contend, I probably wouldn't be playing.


"I feel as if there's a decent one out there -- a 66 or 65 in the third round to get myself back into red numbers. Maybe shoot something similar on Sunday and see where that leaves me."

Prodded, probed and scaned by the medics until 9.30 on Thursday night, McIlroy reported for duty on the range at Atlanta Athletic Club at 8.0 yesterday morning, just 35 minutes before his tee time.

There were no winces or grimaces as he went through his golf bag, from wedge up to driver, in front of a battery of TV cameras and still photographers.

With the assistance of anti-inflammatories and an Aleve capsule, McIlroy headed for the putting green and then on to the 10th tee.

In fact, McIlroy struck the ball quite nicely yesterday as he eased his way safely through to the weekend on three-over-par, courtesy of a second-round 73. Indeed, if anything needed bandaging it probably was the young Ulsterman's old Achilles heel, his putter.

Honest as ever in appraising his performance, McIlroy confessed: "Even with a broken wrist, I should have been able to putt better than that."

He'd count three three-stabs among the 35 putts he took on The Highlands Course yesterday, the first leading to bogey on his opening hole, the 10th. McIlroy had comfortably found the green in two and was 16 feet short of the pin. However, he trundled his first putt four feet past the cup and then missed the return.

McIlroy was followed by a couple of medics during his round but only needed their services once. On the 11th tee the Ulsterman called on physio Cornell Dreisson to loosen a little piece of strapping which had started to come unstuck with perspiration.

Apart from letting the club go with his right hand on a couple of occasions and pulling a few tee shots left of the fairway, the white strapping was the only real indicator of Thursday's misadventure.

McIlroy sank a lovely 12-foot putt from the fringe at the par-five 12th for his first birdie of the day and then missed a couple more chances from inside six feet before holing a 50-foot uphill monster at 16 to go two-under for his round and the tournament.

Yet he'd hit a brick wall on the 207-yard 17th, McIlroy's six-iron tee shot ballooning into the gentle breeze before dropping into the lake short of the green. Another three-putt there led to a desperately frustrating treble-bogey six and the complexion of his day suddenly had changed.

McIlroy battled-on, however, even rebounding from an untidy bogey five at four after he'd taken two to get out of a greenside bunker. There was a fist pump as he holed from 10 feet for birdie at six and a flicker of discontent as he failed to get up and down from another greenside bunker at eight.

His patience would be tested once again after the finish, especially when he was asked for his opinion on pointed suggestions by Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee, among others, that "somebody" should have prevented him from playing that ill-fated shot at the third on Thursday.

This brought memories of McIlroy's controversial recent spat with Chamblee's Golf Channel colleague Jay Townsend after the latter had made derogatory remarks about his caddie JP Fitzgerald during the recent Irish Open at Killarney.

"He's my caddie, not my father," replied McIlroy, shaking his head, when asked if he believed Fitzgerald should have leapt in and urged him to take the safe option and simply hit his ball back out on the fairway.

The situation faced by Fitzgerald in that situation was well summed up by McIlroy's agent Chubby Chandler, when he said: "He doesn't listen to anybody. He won't listen. All this about having a new caddie is all bull because Rory won't listen to anyone, even you."

Discussing the conversation which had taken place over that shot, McIlroy said: "We definitely talked through it. We talked about chipping it out, and, you know, in hindsight that was probably the better option. It was a mistake in judgment.

"But he (Fitzgerald) said to me: 'look, if you're comfortable doing it, go ahead and if that's the shot you see, just do it'. Yeah, I think in the back of both our minds, it was a case of, you know, if it comes off, it comes off, but if it doesn't, then hopefully I don't give myself an injury and it's not too serious."

Thankfully, medical opinion is that the injury will have no long-lasting effects, McIlroy explaining: "It should take just a few weeks to heal."

Bottom line, McIlroy attempted a shot which makes him, like Seve and El Nino, one of the most exciting players ever to grace the world's fairways. If players like this didn't take risks, the sport would be a lot poorer.

At least McIlroy lives to fight another day this weekend. His good friend and fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell was intensely disappointed after bowing out of the tournament on 12-over-par after a second-round 78.

"I drove the ball horrendously again today," he sighed, "while these bunkers are just unplayable. The ball is semi-plugged in every bunker you go into.

"I just can't score. You have to drive the ball well here to have a chance and I didn't do that so I was behind the eight-ball. It's disappointing. The game is just not there. It's kicking lumps out of me right now but I'll press on. I've just got to go back to the drawing board a little bit and see what is going on between now and the Barclays (at the end of this month)."

US PGA Championship

Live, Sky Sports 2, 4.0,

Irish Independent

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