McIlroy and Lowry unsure where rest of the season will take them
McIlroy rib injury has not gone away and needs further medical assessment
Rory McIlroy on the third tee during the final round of the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry completed their interests in the US PGA Championship here in the stifling head of Charlotte, North Carolina, with a similar sense of uncertainty, unsure of where the rest of the season will take them.
For McIlroy, the world number four, the case of the rib injury that won’t go away has cast a shadow on his season, and with potentially further dark clouds looming. The 28-year-old Northern Irishman was all smiles after his round on hearing of Manchester United’s win the in the Premier League, but that news provided only short relief as he rubbed his left rib cage with his right hand in obvious discomfort.
It was only as he talked that the reality of what he was telling us truly unfolded, as McIlroy outlined how the rib injury – a legacy dating back to the South African Open in January and its recurrence at The Players in May, caused as he put it by “going from zero to hitting balls from three or four hours a day” – had spread to affect the rhomboid muscles in his upper back and, rather disconcertingly, to cause numbness in his left arm.
“You might not see me [play] until next year,” he remarked at one point.
McIlroy left Charlotte on Sunday night with a flight path to his ultimate destination in Belfast, where he will this week undergo further medical assessment on his rib injury.
Tennis great Roger Federer has long proclaimed a theory of only playing when 100 per cent fit, and that is something that will be on the golfer’s mind in the coming days as he meets with medical personnel and his fitness expert Dr Steve McGregor to best consider his options.
The questions to be asked and answered will determine whether he plays in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs in the United States, which start with next week’s Northern Trust tournament in New York, or whether he takes a complete break from the sport, with an eight-week layoff from all golfing activity the considered medical judgment that has previously been offered.
Why would he play the FedEx Cup if not fully fit and in discomfort?
“I feel like a sense of duty [to defend], but I’ve missed a lot of time already. If I’m capable of playing, I feel like why shouldn’t you? But then at the same time if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play? So, again, it’s a catch 22. We’ll see what happens. I’ll assess my options in the next few days and see where we go from there.”
He added: “I feel like I’m capable and playing well enough to give myself a chance [in the FedEx Cup]. At the same time April [the Masters at Augusta] is a long way away. That’s the next big thing on my radar.”
The injury originally surfaced during the South African Open in January, where he lost in a play-off despite being in pain.
“An injury like this, it’s eight full weeks of rest before you start to rehab it and then you go again. I felt like we took as much time as we needed to at the start of the year, that was basically seven or eight weeks.
“I got back and playing. It felt okay through the Masters. I switched it off for a couple of weeks because I was getting married, going on honeymoon. Then once I started practising again I didn’t build up the volume gradually. I went from zero to hitting balls from three or four hours a day. That aggravated it a little bit.”
McIlroy – who finished with a closing 68 for 285, one-over, for a top-25 finish – has now gone four full seasons without adding to his career total of four Major titles. His last came in the 2014 PGA.
For Lowry, the low point of his round came when a wayward tee shot on the ninth struck a boy in a wheelchair on the ankle, an incident that affected him for a few holes (he bogeyed the ninth and 11th) before managing to recover to claim three birdies in four holes from the 12th. He signed for a final round 72 for 289, down in a disappointing 52nd place.
Lowry makes the road trip to Greensboro – also in North Carolina – for this week’s Wyndham Championship, the final tournament of the regular season before the top 125 move on to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
He will probably need a top-five finish in the Wyndham if he is to progress to the playoffs.
“There’s plenty of positives. I felt like I played nicely. I mean, it’s funny like, I putted as good as I’ve putted for a long, long time. I felt like my iron play at times was very good...I just have to go out and try to play as well as I can next week, hopefully get into the Fed Ex Cup. If not I’ll go home and probably take a couple of weeks off.”