A football match with friends may have cost Rory McIlroy the chance to defend the Open Championship but he has firmly dismissed any suggestion of halting extra-curricular activities to protect his golf career.
McIlroy ruptured an ankle ligament during the kickabout in early July, making his arrival at this week’s US PGA Championship subject to even more scrutiny than would already have been the case. When he tees up on Thursday at Whistling Straits, alongside Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson, 53 days will have passed since his last competitive appearance.
The Northern Irishman, who also won the final major of the year in 2014, has pointed towards the value of a life away from golf courses.
“Any time I go back home one of the things that I regularly do with my friends is play football,” he said. “That was like the fourth or fifth time in a 10-day period where I had played football. I enjoy it. We all enjoy it. And it’s unfortunate that it happened.
“It can happen walking off a tee box. It can happen falling off a kerb on the side of the street. It can happen doing anything. Unfortunately my foot just got stuck on the turf and I went over on it. And I was out for a few weeks.”
Pressed on whether he would consider the football retirement some onlookers have claimed is necessary, McIlroy added: “Not at all. I might take some precautionary measures next time because I rolled my right ankle at the end of 2013.
“Obviously I did it a little bit worse here to my left, so maybe I will wear ankle braces on both ankles. But apart from that I’m not going to stop doing what I do. I enjoy that part of my life. I enjoy having that normality in my life. It’s something that I’ve done since I was a kid and I won’t stop doing that, no.”
Speaking at length for the first time since the injury, McIlroy revealed the extent of his initial fears. “I thought I had broken it,” he said. “Because as soon as I went over on it I heard like a snap. Obviously that was the ligament that snapped.
“I looked down and 30 seconds later it got the size of a tennis ball, basically because all the fluid came out of the joint capsule, so it just filled up.
“When I got the scan that night, it showed that I had totally ruptured one ligament and I had a grade two in the other. And if that had been a total rupture in that as well, then that would have required surgery. So luckily that wasn’t the case.
“As injuries go, it could have been worse. I was lucky that I didn’t do more damage and thankfully after five weeks of hard work and rehab I’m back playing.”
McIlroy used the example of a 20-minute run morning to emphasise how comfortable his ankle feels now. Tiger Woods was among those to express fears over how McIlroy might cope with a golfing return but the man himself pointed to what was “always a six-to-eight-week injury.” McIlroy credited his personal trainer, Dr Steve McGregor, with the quicker return to fitness.
Attention now turns towards a potential duel with Spieth. The 22-year-old Texan could replace McIlroy at the top of the world rankings this weekend, having closed the gap with victories at the Masters and US Open.
“Whenever you see someone put together a season like this, of course you become motivated,” McIlroy admitted. “But as well, you’re inspired. I think the performances that he put in at the Masters and the US Open and even at the Open, when he was so close, they were inspirational performances.”
The world No1 was coy, though, about who should currently be regarded as the finest player in the game.
“If you were to go by this year, you would have to say Jordan,” said McIlroy. “I would say if you go over the last two years, I would say it’s probably a toss-up between Jordan and myself. That’s a hard one.
“We have got the rankings there but it’s all a matter of opinion. People are going to place importance on different aspects of the game and, if people place more importance on some of the parts of the game that I’m stronger at, then they might say that I am. But if some people place more importance on some of the attributes that he is a little stronger than me, then they would say he is. So it’s all a matter of opinion at this point.
“I’ve been practising for over three weeks getting my game ready, getting my game sharp.
“I feel like I’m playing well. I expect to play well here. I don’t see any reason why I can’t bring the sort of form that I’ve shown in practice rounds and on the range to the tee on Thursday afternoon.”
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