McIlroy heading back to the U.S. ... to play in PGA?

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After dropping hints about his status for the PGA Championship all week, Rory McIlroy seemed to announce his intentions via iPhone emoticons Friday morning.

LOL.

Perhaps putting an end to weeks of speculation and hype, the world No. 1 posted a photo from his private jet with the American flag, thumbs-up and golf course symbols – the surest sign yet that he intends to return from a month-long absence and tee it up in the year’s final major.

We’re still awaiting confirmation in written English, but it seems more and more likely that the friendly soccer game will only cost McIlroy a shot at one major this year. 

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 would be after six weeks of intensive rehab is another issue.

If 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.   

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

McIlroy's No. 1 ranking is up for grabs this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Spieth (five shots back after Round 1) can ascend to the top spot with a victory.