“I guess for myself, if I'm looking at it as a whole, I feel like I've done well to come back and shoot the scores that I have. I feel like I progressed each and every day,” he said.
“I'm walking away pretty happy with how the week went. Obviously, it isn't a win and didn't get myself into contention, but considering six weeks ago I wasn't able to walk, it's not a bad effort."
McIlroy shot four under-par rounds (71-71-68-69) at Whistling Straits and managed to escape without re-injuring his ankle. He finished in 17th place, 11 shots behind winner Jason Day.
McIlroy, the defending PGA champion, was competing for the first time since rupturing a ligament in his left ankle while playing soccer. After five weeks on the sidelines, and two missed title defenses in a major and WGC event, he returned with expectations of competing.
Those went unfulfilled. Another expectation, that of what it would take to win this championship, was a bit short-sighted.
“I thought, between 10 and 15 under would have a great chance to win, but obviously the standard is just so high these days,” he said. “I didn't see close to 20 under par winning this tournament.”
McIlroy will take the next two weeks off and return for the second FedEx Cup playoffs event at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He’ll have another week off thereafter, as the Tour has a bye week between the second and third cup events.
The plan during that down time?
“I probably next week won't do much work on my golf; I'll just keep doing the rehab and doing everything I need to then,” he said. “And then the week after I'll start to practice and build up again and get ready for Boston."
McIlroy admitted there was some swelling in his ankle after rounds, but that it was nothing significant. "It should look like a normal ankle in two, three months," he said. As for his game, there also needs to be a little rehab, a little fine-tuning to get back to the form that led to victories in this year's WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship.
“I just need to sharpen up," he said. "I feel like ball-striking-wise, tee to green, it's there. And it's sort of been there all year. If anything, just around the greens and being more efficient, really.”
When McIlroy returns it will be as world No. 2, according to Golf Channel calculations. After finishing his round, with Spieth still on the course and fighting to claim his third major of the season, McIlroy was asked how much being No. 1 meant to him, and his thoughts on possibly being bumped from his perch.
“I feel like I'm playing well, but if he does go to No. 1 today, it's very deservedly so,” McIlroy said. “Winning two majors, winning a couple other times this year, had a chance at the Open, has a chance, obviously, today. And if he was to get to No. 1 today, I'd be the first one to congratulate him because I know the golf you have to play to get to that spot, and it has been impressive this year."
And he did just that after Spieth finished solo second to earn the top spot.
McIlroy will have plenty of motivation when he competes again in New Jersey. But reclaiming world No. 1, he says, won't be his primary focus.
“I've always said that winning golf tournaments takes care of all of that stuff," McIlroy said. "Right now I'm focused on just getting my game the way I think it has to be to win tournaments like this."