JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Rory McIlroy played through pain Friday at the PGA Championship.
You could see it with his face twisting in anguish after he ballooned a 6-iron off the 17th tee at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Though he rinsed that shot in a pond and made triple bogey, there was actually terrific news in that scene and beyond.
The pain, you see, was all emotional in a round of 3-over-par 73.
The strained tendon above McIlroy’s right wrist wasn’t hurting him when he signed his scorecard after the round. His pain was in knowing that while he made the cut, he’s fallen well off the lead in the year’s final major.
With his right wrist and forearm heavily bandaged, McIlroy’s highly scrutinized return to action Friday could have been a lot worse.
McIlroy appears to have avoided major injury after hurting himself hitting a questionable shot with a 7-iron off a tree root in the first round.
“It’s uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t say it’s very painful,” McIlroy said after the second round. “It was just always in the back of my mind, in my subconscious.”
There was a sigh of relief in the McIlroy camp as they watched the 22-year-old rip some gargantuan pain-free drives in his return.
'He's fine, he's fine,' said Gerry McIlroy, Rory's father.
McIlroy played Friday with no observable preoccupation with the injury, other than his reaction to an iron shot off the tee at No. 13, his fourth hole of the day, when he shook his hand following the shot.
McIlroy drove the ball beautifully Friday. While his iron play wasn’t sharp, and his short game and putter were shaky, his wrist/forearm seemed to hold up just fine.
“I’m worried about it, because I feel as if I can't play to the best of my abilities with it,” McIlroy said. “But I'm not worried about it long term. It should take a few weeks just to heal.”
After opening with an impressive 70 that was troubling, in all the pain McIlroy showed playing with the injury, the reigning U.S. Open champion acknowledged he got away with a questionable shot off that tree root.
“It was a mistake in judgment,” McIlroy said. “I thought I would be able to get away with it, let go of the club at impact, and hopefully it would be OK. But, it’s hard to let go at the right moment, the club is coming down so fast. I just let go a little bit too late and jarred the wrist.”
McIlroy’s managers took him to the Peachtree Dunwoody Medical Center after Thursday’s round. He spent about three hours at the clinic, where an orthopedic hand specialist examined him. An MRI revealed a strained tendon above the wrist but nothing more serious. The scans were also sent to specialists back in Great Britain.
“There’s no structural damage, just inflammation,” said Chubby Chandler, McIlroy’s agent.
Chandler said he left the decision to play to McIlroy and the doctors.
“He doesn’t listen to anyone anyway,” Chandler cracked.
McIlroy said if he weren’t playing a major championship, he likely would have walked off the course on Thursday and withdrawn.
“Looking at the scans, [the doctors] said, 'Look, you can't do any more damage to it, it's up to you. If you want to play, and you feel as though you can play, OK, carry on. And, if not, then you shouldn't play.' I feel as if I can play, and so the decision was purely up to me,” McIlroy relayed.
Chandler said doctors were prepared to give McIlroy a shot of Toradol, an anti-inflammatory drug, but McIlroy passed on it.
“They couldn't get the sign-off, it was 10 [o’clock], and he didn’t want to be there all night,” Chandler said.
So McIlroy took two Alleve and went to bed in a soft cast. He took two more Alleve in the morning, the only medication he took for the injury. He also received treatment from a physical therapist before heading out to hit a limited number of practice shots before the second round.
“When I woke up this morning, it was stiff, but it wasn't as painful,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, I hit a few shots on the range, and it was fine. I felt as if I was OK to go out and play.
“If it wasn't a major, I probably would have stopped yesterday.”
If McIlroy’s mind is made up, Chandler said there is no talking him out of playing. If McIlroy’s determined, he said there is no talking him out of a risky shot, either.
'Guys like Rory and Tiger they play on their limit, don’t they?' Chandler said. 'He’s taking a shot 90 percent of the field wouldn’t take.”
Chandler said McIlroy burns to play in majors.
“He said something [about playing on with the injury],” Chandler said. “He said the next major’s not until April, that’s how he thinks. You don’t get too many people who think, well, the next major’s not for nine months. He’s a different person at a major than any other week.”
Had the injury been worse, he might have been a lesser player for a long time.