McIlroy back from injury to take spotlight from Spieth

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2015, 7:33 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – From his couch he watched the Open Championship unfold and attention spans wandered.

It wasn’t jealousy or even envy, as if the man that has everything would covet another’s prize; but for Rory McIlroy, the evolving narrative in golf over the last five weeks has been a study in mob mentality.

For nearly a year, McIlroy’s hold on the heavyweight crown had been undisputed and unchallenged. Even when Jordan Spieth won the Masters this spring, the Northern Irishman answered with victories of his own at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship.

Not long after Spieth’s second consecutive major victory at the U.S. Open, however, short attention spans and the desire for instant analysis began to change the conversation. And when McIlroy severely injured his left ankle playing soccer with friends on July 6, the world No. 1 officially became an afterthought, however temporarily.

“We live in such a world that everything's so reactionary and everything happens so quickly that a year ago after I won this tournament it was the Rory era and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's the Jordan era,” McIlroy said on Wednesday at the PGA Championship. “Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years.”

If McIlroy’s take sounds bitter, it’s not.

If he sounds a touch put out over the attention Spieth has now garnered, he’s not.

To be clear, Spieth is “taking up a lot of the limelight this year which is deservedly so,” McIlroy said.

But it’s just as clear that the world No. 1 – and he is still the world No. 1, at least until Sunday – did not go on the disabled list quietly.

The same internal dialogue that drove McIlroy to two majors last season has been a tortured companion over the last five weeks of relative inactivity, repeatedly reminding himself that it’s not the limelight he seeks as much as it is all the accomplishments that land a champion at center stage.


PGA Championship: Full-field tee times


Not playing the Open Championship at St. Andrews, his favorite major venue, was so offensive he told friends and family he wouldn’t watch the event on television. He did tune in for most of the final round, but he didn’t like it.

That desire is virtually impossible to temper, driving Rory during the best of times to be unbeatable but also beckoning him back when things aren’t ideal, like the last five weeks of rehabilitation.

No athlete has ever come back too late from an injury, a truth that remains undefeated, despite McIlroy’s objections.

McIlroy’s injury, which was a total rupture of the anterior talo-fibular ligament along with joint capsule damage, is an ailment that normally requires a six- to eight-week recovery.

“An average person that goes to the physio three times a week will probably take between six and eight weeks,” McIlroy said. “Maybe I was one or two weeks ahead of what I was told at the start, but I don't think that's any surprise, given this day and age and everything that is at our disposal in terms of treatment and machines and everything.”

McIlroy is not an “average person,” but he’s not super human either.

The swing looks solid, and after arriving at Whistling Straits last Saturday he certainly appears up to the physical challenge of playing the year’s final major, but there are always unforeseen dangers when dealing with injuries.

“I just get worried sometimes when people get injured and come back a little early because sometimes it can snowball and go other places and it may start in an ankle, it could go to a knee, or could go to a hip, it could go to the back,” said Jason Day, who has dealt with more than his share of injuries in his career.

It’s called the kinetic chain, which is trainer speak for injuries or weaknesses in one part of the body, say the left ankle, that can slowly manifest itself in other areas, such as a right hip ailment, or worse it could even cause slight swing adjustments that will be hard to break over time.

It’s likely a conversation McIlroy has had with his trainer Steve McGregor, but knowing the road to take and veering down the correct path are two different things.

Keeping the proverbial racehorse in the stable is always difficult, but to put the climb McIlroy will face this week in context he’s being asked to save Game 7 of the World Series straight off the DL.

He played 72 holes in four days last week in Portugal to test his mended ankle, but he still hasn’t hit a meaningful shot since the final round at Chambers Bay in June.

To be fair, McIlroy has earned the benefit of the doubt considering how well he’s handled adversity throughout his career and he’s proven himself mature beyond his 26 years.

“When you're playing week in, week out and you're thinking about winning these tournaments, you get so wrapped up in what you're doing and your own little life and your own little bubble, sometimes you forget there's a bigger wider world out there,” he said. “That's something that I can bring in with me this week, knowing that, OK, it's a big deal, but no matter what happens this week, only a very small percentage of the population really care.”

Of course, proving to that slice of the audience that does care he is still very much a part of the conversation would also be OK.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.