Rory McIlroy playing catch-up as he returns to action in Mexico

McIlroy’s return to competition marks belated start to his build-up to the Masters

 Rory McIlroy at the South African Open in January. His rib injury first manifested itself in Johannesburg. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy at the South African Open in January. His rib injury first manifested itself in Johannesburg. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

Golf these days would appear to come with some sort of a health warning, with the chances of every big name teeing up in the same tournament stymied by one injury or another. In a week when Rory McIlroy makes a competitive return after six weeks sidelined by stress fractures to his ribs, world number two Jason Day has withdrawn from the $9.5 million WGC-Mexico Championship at Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City .

Day’s health issues have taken many forms in recent years, including suffering bouts of vertigo at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. The Australian claimed to be suffering from a double ear infection and also 'flu, which made him unavailable to play in the tournament which is being staged in Mexico for the first time. It was previously staged at the Trump Doral in Florida, when known as the Cadillac championship.

“I have a double ear infection and the flu, which precludes me from preparing for and playing in the tournament,” said Day in a statement.

Having missed the final three months of last season with a back injury, Day – who lost his world number one spot to Dustin Johnson after the American’s victory at Pebble Beach two weeks ago – will be missing a WGC event for the first time since being forced out of the Cadillac championship three years ago due to a thumb injury.

McIlroy’s return to competition marks a belated start to his build-up to the Masters tournament, the only Major title he has yet to win in a quest to achieve the career Grand Slam.

The Northern Irishman pulled out of the Abu Dhabi championship last month after scans revealed the extent of the rib injury which first manifested at the South African Open, his only appearance so far this season where he lost out in a play-off to Graeme Storm. McIlroy has slipped from second to third in the world rankings in the lay-off period.

Wedge shots

McIlroy only started hitting wedge shots as part of the recovery process but did play a round with US president Donald Trump last Sunday week. He fine-tuned for Mexico by playing against Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer in the pro members event at the exclusive Seminole club in Florida yesterday before flying on to Mexico on a plane chartered by the PGA Tour for players.

There is a limited field with the top 50 from the world rankings qualifying for Mexico, and a further 27 players qualifying through categories of the PGA, European, Asian, Australian, Japan and Sunshine Tours. McIlroy is the only Irish player in action.

Shane Lowry has slipped out of the world’s top 50, but would have been an absentee anyway as his wife Wendy is due to give birth to the couple’s first baby.

Graeme McDowell’s top 15 finish in the Honda Classic moved him up two places in the latest world rankings to 87th, but he needs some big finishes in the coming weeks if he is to get back into the top 50 to earn a place in the field for the Masters.

McDowell claimed to be “disappointed” not to be on the charter flight to Mexico. “But when you’re not into a WGC it means you’re not top 50 in the world, it means you’re a second-tier player. So, that continues to be the goal, and that’s to get myself back into the top 50 in the world,” said the Portrush native, who intends to take in practice rounds at Tampa and Bay Hill this week ahead of the upcoming Valspar and Arnold Palmer Invitational tournaments.

Solid week

“I’ve taken a lot of positive steps. It’s the best I have driven the ball all season, but I just wasn’t sharp enough on the greens. It’s been a solid week and something I can take into my week and build on and move forward,” said McDowell.

The Tshwane Open is a co-sanctioned tournament on the European and Sunshine Tours, with Darren Clarke and Paul Dunne – who has made six of seven cuts so far this season – the Irish players in the field.

Pádraig Harrington finished his five-week stint Stateside with a missed cut at the Honda Classic and intends getting further medical advice on the trapped nerve in his neck which has disrupted his season.

To have surgery or not is the question for Harrington.

“They are talking up to 12 weeks without hitting a shot and then a couple of weeks [if surgery is needed]. So if I go and have it done pretty much immediately I’d be ready to go back playing just sometime in mid-June. So I’d be in good time for The Open [at Birkdale]. And the only issue I have is if I delay surgery, thinking I’m getting better, and then I end up having to have surgery in May or something like that; that would be a disaster to miss out obviously on Birkdale and miss out on the PGA as well during the summer.”

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