McIlroy is back; grouped with Spieth, Zach at PGA

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Rory McIlroy has committed to play next week's PGA Championship.

No emojis necessary.  

The world No. 1 hinted at his intentions in an emoticon-laden tweet earlier Friday, but the PGA of America all but confirmed that he is entered in this year’s field by tweeting out his first-round tee time – 2:20 p.m. ET Thursday, alongside 2015 major winners Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson.

While McIlroy has not officially said he will compete – though, he did retweet the PGA's announcement of his grouping – Golf Channel has confirmed his commitment.

McIlroy – and his injured ankle – will receive plenty of attention next week at Whistling Straits, where he finished one shot out of a playoff in 2010.

The probability of a PGA return seemed to increase earlier this week, when a report surfaced that he was booked for a practice round Saturday at Whistling Straits. His publicist denied the report, but after weeks of radio silence McIlroy ramped up his own social-media presence, posting three times on Instagram in a 24-hour span – first a video of his workout, then a side-by-side photo of how his gruesome left ankle looked a few weeks ago, and then, finally, a short clip of his driver swing. His message was unmistakable: I’m coming back.

How competitive McIlroy will be after six weeks of rehab is another issue.

When he tees it up next week, it’ll be his first competitive round in 53 days. In his last start, at the U.S. Open, he tied for ninth. He said he ruptured ligaments in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends July 4. 

More than his form, the course will test his rehabbed ankle as much as any major-championship venue. Whistling Straits is a six-mile walk, and the hilly terrain makes for a difficult trek for both spectators and players.

McIlroy’s return is the biggest storyline at a major that has no shortage of them, from Spieth’s bid to win three majors in a season, to Dustin Johnson’s redemption, to Rickie Fowler and Jason Day’s ascendance, to potentially Tiger Woods’ last chance to make the FedEx Cup playoffs. 

His No. 1 ranking is up for grabs this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Spieth (six shots back after two rounds) can ascend to the top spot with a victory.