Rory McIlroy scores Major own goal but says he'll make The Open
A picture paints a thousand words, every one of them spelling pain. Rory McIlroy's Instagram scoop showing him on crutches, his left foot in a surgical boot after rupturing ankle ligaments during a kickabout with his mates at home here on holiday, is the last thing he or golf needs nine days before The Open Championship.
McIlroy has not ruled himself out of defending the crown he won at Hoylake last year and more scans are planned in the next 48 hours, but an outlook that sees him putting a tee in the ground at St Andrews a week on Thursday errs on the enthusiastic side of optimistic.
Recovery time for mortals is estimated at six weeks. For athletes like McIlroy, some expert opinion suggests he might be back in two to three, but with The Open starting on July 16 and the US PGA Championship five weeks hence, a defence of the two Majors he won at the end of last summer appears unlikely.
This week's Scottish Open in Gullane, where he was scheduled to play on Thursday, is the first victim of this freak turn of events.
Here in his own words is an account of the injury: "Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends on Saturday. Continuing to assess extent of injury and treatment plan day by day. Rehab already started. Working hard to get back as soon as I can."
And so the world's No 1 golfer, the game's box office star, will be watching the biggest tournament in golf from the sofa. The mishap will raise questions about the folly of engaging in physical activity of this nature at any time, let alone the most important part of the season.
McIlroy had been moving impressively through the gears, lighting up the final day of the US Open at Chambers Bay last month with arguably the best ball-striking of his career. Had his putter been remotely warm and the course not beset by random features, the field might have been running for cover.
St Andrews is notionally made for him in a summer such as this, witness his course record 63 on the opening day five years ago when the sun shone. His forbearance at Chambers Bay demonstrated how much improved he is in demanding conditions, suggesting the 80 he shot in the wind on the second day in 2010 would remain a thing of the past.
All conjecture now. Positive as he is trying to be about a quick recovery, McIlroy would need the healing powers of Zeus to be playing again by September, let alone next week. His team rate his chances no higher than 10 per cent. Pity, because his absence denies us a meeting of golf's superpowers at the home of the game.
Jordan Spieth arrives in Scotland attempting to become only the second golfer in history to win the first three majors of the season. Between them McIlroy and Spieth possess all four majors. They sit in a space all their own at the top of the world rankings, fuelling anticipation of a showdown on the Fife Coast.
Spieth is at the centre of a different debate, having committed to play the John Deere Classic this week, one of the smallest events on the PGA Tour. He has only one sighting of St Andrews under his belt, four years ago, and that was in September when conditions bore little relation to the hard and fast terrain he will encounter next week.
Should he make the cut as expected in Illinois, the earliest he can be at St Andrews will be on Monday, not great preparation, but at least he will be walking without the aid of crutches.
News of McIlroy's injury began to spread quickly. Luke Donald was one of the first to offer his support via social media, tweeting: "Hope you get back out there soon. Wishing you a speedy recovery."
Via the same platform Ian Baker-Smith said: "So sorry to hear the terrible news. Look after yourself Rory. We all hope to see you at the Open and the PGA Championship."
Sam Torrance, a vice-captain at Gleneagles, where McIlroy helped to fire Europe to Ryder Cup success with a spectacular demolition of Rickie Fowler in the singles on the final day, was stunned to hear the news.
"I'm in complete shock," he said. "That's a big blow [to the Open] if he misses it. That's obviously bad news and I'd just wish him all the best and hope he can make a quick recovery