Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

USPGA: Rory McIlroy makes it through pain

JOHNS CREEK, GA - AUGUST 11: A member of the medical staff examines the right wrist of Rory McIlroy during the first round of the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club on August 11, 2011 in Johns Creek, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

It was the crack of the wrist heard around the world.

When Rory McIlroy smashed a seven-iron into the root of a tree on the third hole here yesterday his USPGA Championship flashed before him.

Yet he still managed level par — and that was nothing short of astonishing. His future in the tournament, however, is clouded in doubt, and that doubt is not expected to be lifted until later today.

The pre-tournament favourite knew he was in trouble soon as his ball deflected off the tree. Indeed, his wrist jarred so badly he dropped the club.

Ulsterman McIlroy pushed a cold bottle of water against his right arm and somehow he managed to hook his ball around another tree into a greenside bunker and from there get up and down for a bogey. But there was only angst on his face, not relief.

On the fourth he was given an ice pack and his playing partner and compatriot Darren Clarke gavce him advice.

“Don't do anything stupid for the sake of playing," the Open champion told the 22-year-old who for so long looked up to him as a mentor.

McIlroy elected to play on but Jeff Hengra, a PGA Tour phyisotherapist, was called and examined him on the green of the par three. After a long consultation, Mcilroy continued, parring the fourth.

The drive on the fifth was the critical moment. He hit the fairway but again his hand came off the club and again he winced.

The mind went back to the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines when after almost every shot Woods was in agony. Of course, Woods famously proceeded to win “on one leg.” Could McIlroy become the "one-armed" champion?

The outrgaeous fantasy became slightly more plausible when he produced another great bunker to birdie the par-five fifth and then holed a long putt on the sixth. He was still in distress and in red figures at one-under par.

By now his own physiotherapist, Cornel Driessen, was with him and was giving treatment on every hole.

He had assured McIlroy that by continuing he would not be risking serious injury. Driessen applied bandages on the ninth and suddenly the grimace was not so notable.

But even through McIlroy finished his opening round, the outlook for the rest of the tournament was uncertain.

He was booked in for a MRI scan last night — but he didn’t need that to know he’ll be in terrible pain this morning.

However, the PGA Tour physio Digby Watt predicted the US Open champion would be able to play on.

“From what we can tell it looks like he should be okay," he 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 other burning question was whether McIlroy should have taken on the shot on the third. It was obvious he would hit the root, but McIlroy must have believed he could power through it. The root won. Ian Poulter tweeted his concern. “Rory shot on three was risky, hope his wrist is okay," wrote the Englishman after his first-round 74.

“Never easy to play with a strain especially how hard he hits it.”

Colin Montgomerie, watching in the Sky commentary box, was not surprised McIlroy was playing through the pain. "He wants to win two majors this year so he's confident and wants to play - as a 22-year-old you do want to play golf," he said.

“He has been given confidence and the physios have said he won't do any permanent damage or any more damage by playing...there doesn't seem to be any ligament damage or indeed a fracture.”

McIlroy continued to defy the odds, holing another monster for a par on the ninth and continuing to keep himself in contention, although he wasn’t troubling the top end of the leaderboard.

“He's playing remarkable golf," said Monty.

“Let's hope he can continue in this competition. Anti-inflammatories can only help.”

It was dramatic fare but was merely par for the course in Mcilroy's roller-coaster year in the majors.

The final-round 80 he shot when leading The Masters, the record-breaking seven-stroke triumph at Congressional, all the attention at The Open as he filled the void left by the absence Tiger Woods.

And now this latest drama, which. But it’s a major, it’s Rory McIlroy playing, so what else could we expect?

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