Great golf, bad golf, injured wrist, rules controversy and, finally, to hospital – just another day in the life and times of Rory McIlroy, who did not lead after the opening day of the PGA Championship in Atlanta but certainly garnered all the attention.
Poor Steve Stricker. The likeable and talented American shot a record-equalling 63 to lead the field by two – a wonderful effort on a difficult course that in the end proved good enough to be only a footnote.
For that he can blame McIlroy's decision to play a shot close to a tree root on his third hole of the day. It was a daft move and, as he dropped his club and grabbed his wrist in pain, its effects were obvious. He immediately called for a physiotherapist, who was then followed out on to the course by his own personal physio, Cornel Driessen.
The Northern Irishman played three more holes – and to his credit, birdied two of them – before a strapping was applied to the wrist. He reached the turn in 35 shots, level par, and edged into red numbers at the 12th, when he completed the par-five in four shots. Alas, the second of those shots, a wonderful recovery shot from off the fairway, provided a moment of controversy, with an ensuing debate over whether or not he had received "coaching" – which is against the rules.
Officials reviewed the incident and gave McIlroy the all-clear. The question is will the doctors do the same.
"I felt a sharp pain up the forearm and then there's a little bit of swelling, just on the inside of my wrist. And then it was going up into my elbow and my shoulder. So just going to go and get an MRI now and see if there's no damage to it," the Northern Irishman said after signing for a level-par 70. A decision on whether he will take part in Friday's second round will be made overnight.
The injury was a terrible pity for the Northern Irishman, to say the least, but it made for great theatre as he played a succession of brilliant recovery shots while completing his swing with one hand on the club. It was not pretty but it was compelling stuff. Even US television, which is notoriously parochial, hardly diverted its gaze as he battled his way back to the clubhouse.
"The physio said it's your decision, if you want to play on and you feel comfortable doing that; but if not, there's no point in risking it," McIlroy said, conceding he had thought about pulling out midway through the round.
""But it's the last major of the year. I've got, what, six or seven months to the Masters. So I might as well try and play through the pain and get it over and done with."
McIlroy has now lost a major (the Masters), won a major (the US Open) and competed in a major with a bad injury. A star truly has been born this year in golf and it has come at a moment when another star appears to be fading.
Tiger Woods began the week with the intention of securing an improbable victory but instead will spend his Friday chasing the more modest goal of making the cut after hacking and chopping and sweating his way to a round of 77.
That seven-over-par effort was Woods's worst first round at a major and his worst opening round at any tournament since 1996. He finished the day 14 shots behind Stricker and sounding bereft. He has sacked his caddie, lost his temper and misplaced his swing. "I have been through this before but this is a major championship and once you get to a major championship you just let it fly," he said.
Alas, for the former world No1 he sank like a stone. Still, there is always tomorrow, although that might be more of a curse than a blessing. "It's a laundry list," he replied when asked what adjustments he intended to make for his second round. Woods finished the day with his hopes of an improbable victory gone.
Stricker may not be the most dominating player to grace the PGA Tour but he is no mug. He hits the ball straight and he putts as well as anyone. A bogey-less round is always an achievement, even at a professional level, but to negotiate this brutish 7,463-yard course without dropping a shot was truly impressive.
Indeed he might have broken the record low score at a major but for a 12-foot putt on the final green that slipped past the hole. "The record didn't even register. I was just trying to hole that putt and get to eight under par. I never thought of the history," he said afterwards.
Jerry Kelly, another PGA Tour lifer, led the chasing hordes with a 65 while the Italian teenager Matteo Manassero was the leading European with a two-under par 68.
The world No1, Luke Donald, was two shots worse than the Italian and a great deal more disappointed. "I thought if you could get the ball in the fairway today, you could make a score out there. The greens are receptive from the fairway, and they're rolling so nice. It's a course you can attack from the fairway," the Englishman said.
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