The 144th Open Championship just got less interesting.
Sure, Jordan Spieth will be looking to secure the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam and Tiger Woods is returning to the site where he won two of three claret jugs with something that resembles decent form, but without Rory McIlroy, it just won’t be the same.
The world No. 1 announced via Instagram on Wednesday that after rupturing a ligament in his left ankle playing soccer two days ago, he would be unable to return to St. Andrews to defend his title.
“After much consideration, I have decided not to play in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. I’m taking a long term view of this injury and, although rehab is progressing well, I want to come back to tournament play when I feel 100% healthy and 100% competitive. Thank you all for your support and best wishes. I hope to be back on the course as soon as I can,” he wrote.
While much of the golf world continues to fixate on the “kick about” that landed McIlroy on the disabled list – as if a 26-year-old should lock himself away when something as important as a major championship is hanging in the balance – the real talking point should be the impact his absence will have on next week’s event and beyond.
With the makings of a bonafide rivalry emerging between McIlroy and Spieth, this certainly seems like a potentially historic missed opportunity.
Spieth will still be eying Grand Slam history at the Old Course, but it will be missing the buzz that would have come with a potentially historic duel with Rory on such an iconic venue.
The two have traded titles with regularity this season, with Spieth striking first with his victory at the Masters. The Northern Irishman answered with convincing triumphs at the WGC-Match Play and at the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
Spieth won last month’s U.S. Open, essentially putting the ball in McIlroy’s court, but now that answer will have to wait.
“It's unlucky, it's unfortunate, and I'm sure he's taking it harder on himself than anybody else,” Spieth said Tuesday at the John Deere Classic. “But I don't think he did anything wrong, it just was an unfortunate situation, and hopefully he rebounds quickly and gets back right to where he was.”
Spieth’s comments go well beyond that of a friend or interested bystander. In many ways having a healthy rivalry is as important to a player’s legacy as his record.
Arnold Palmer had Jack Nicklaus, Nicklaus had Tom Watson, even Woods had a revolving cast of would-be contenders from Ernie Els and Vijay Singh to Phil Mickelson to add a level of intrigue to all of those milestones.
A victory for Spieth at St. Andrews won’t be diminished by McIlroy’s absence – let’s be honest, if Jordan leaves Scotland with the third leg of the Grand Slam there will be little talk of ligament damage and ongoing therapy – but the best in any sport crave the competition more than the championships.
So far, the rivalry between the two young players has been good natured, competitively heated and very much a two-way street, which are the central tenets of a good rivalry.
In May, following his victory at the WGC-Match Play, McIlroy was asked how he planned to spend his birthday, which was the next day.
“Every Monday morning I go onto the website and look at what my lead [in the Official World Golf Ranking] is,” he said at Harding Park. “Tomorrow will be the same. It’s nice to be in that position.”
It was a telling glimpse into the competitive elements that make a good rivalry and why a Rory vs. Jordan showdown at this year’s majors was so compelling.
Next week’s Open will be entertaining, it always is at the Home of Golf, and Spieth may well make history, but it could have been historic.