Commentary

Single swing sank Rory McIlroy's PGA

Originally Published: August 12, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- If they gave mental mulligans, Rory McIlroy would have taken one. But that's not how it works in majors, which is why McIlroy has a Ray Lewis tape job on his wrist and little or no shot to win the PGA Championship.

First things first. Before you can talk about what McIlroy did Friday, you have to remember what he did Thursday. And what he did was try to hit a superhero shot that not even Iron Man would have tried. Or Phil Mickelson.

Rory McIlroy
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesRory McIlroy said Friday he was only about "70, 75 percent" after his injury but still managed to reach the weekend at the 93rd PGA Championship.

McIlroy got into a fist fight with a tree root on the third hole of his tournament. Instead of chipping out into the fairway on his second shot, the 22-year-old McIlroy tried to muscle a 7-iron toward the green.

The damaged club head now sits in his locker at the Atlanta Athletic Club and his damaged right wrist has spent much of the last two days wrapped in medical tape or protected by a soft cast. Kids.

"Looking back on it, you know hindsight is a great thing," said McIlroy after Friday's 3-over-par 73. "It was a mistake in judgment."

The mistake resulted in not just one injury, but three. According to trainer Cornell Driessen, who travels with the tour and treated McIlroy on Thursday and Friday, Rory suffered a strained tendon, as well as the equivalent of what NFL players would call a "stinger."

McIlroy felt tingling, numbness and the sensation of being stuck with needles immediately after the tree root incident. By his 8:35 a.m. Friday tee time, the tingling and numbness were gone. And as it turns out, so were his chances of winning his second major.

Miracles could happen, but it's doubtful. He's 8 strokes behind 36-hole co-leaders Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley and by his own estimation, McIlroy was at "70, 75 percent, something like that" during Friday's round. It's hard to win one of these things when you're 100 percent, so don't count on McIlroy dropping a pair of, say, 65s, on the scorecard this weekend -- not with a bum wrist and forearm.

He only has himself to blame. It was a ridiculously difficult shot hit by a ridiculously talented player. But it was a silly decision, which is different from a dumb one.

McIlroy thought he could let go of the club at the exact moment of impact. Instead, he held on a split second too long. The club broke and his tendon took a beating.

J.P. Fitzgerald, McIlroy's caddie, is taking a beating, too. His critics demand an explanation: Why didn't he talk McIlroy out of hitting that infamous Thursday shot?

"He's my caddie, not my father," McIlroy said a day later.

Blaming Fitzgerald would be like blaming caddie Jim Mackay for not wrestling Mickelson to the ground when Lefty pulled a driver from the bag with a 1-shot lead on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open. (Mickelson bounced one off a hospitality tent, made double bogey and finished T-2.) And just think if Mickelson had listened to Mackay at the 2010 Masters. Lefty would have never hit the most famous 6-iron shot in Augusta National history.

No, McIlroy is in this position -- just squeezing under the cut -- because of, well, McIlroy. He jeopardized this major, and could have jeopardized his career, because of that one -- careless decision.

"I'm worried about it because I don't feel -- I feel as I can't play to the best of my abilities with it," McIlroy said. "But you know, I'm not worried about it long term. It should take a few weeks to heel."

Let's hope so. In 2008, Luke Donald injured his left wrist tendon and had to undergo surgery. Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, hurt his left wrist in 2009 and hasn't had a top-10 finish since.

McIlroy, his father Gerry, manager Chubby Chandler and a family friend walked into the AAC clubhouse at 6:59 Friday morning. McIlroy wore a soft cast and a serious face.

"It's a little sore," McIlroy said, when someone asked about the condition of the wrist. Then he disappeared around a corner and into Locker Room D.

Gerry emerged a few minutes later, just in time to see a Golf Channel talk show on the wall plasma. The co-anchors were debating McIlroy's shot on Thursday and Fitzgerald's role in the round.

Gerry said nothing, but he clearly wasn't pleased with the discussion. About 10 minutes later, he, Rory and the friend went upstairs for breakfast. Chandler sat in the locker room lobby.

"I think he's in pain," Chandler said. "I think he's in a lot of pain. But he can't hurt it more. I think he's going to play."

Fitzgerald arrived at 7:18 a.m. As he and Chandler chatted, there was another segment on the Golf Channel about McIlroy's tree root episode. Caddie and agent stared quietly at the screen.

McIlroy returned from breakfast then got his wrist taped. He left the locker room at 8:06 and walked past the putting green, where Butch Harmon stopped to check on him. So did Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke.

Four TV cameras recorded his 40 practice range shots. Later at the putting green, Chandler and McIlroy's day-to-day agent, Stuart Cage, filled in the details: McIlroy took two anti-inflammatory, anti-pain pills Thursday night and again Friday morning. ... Titleist techs in Carlsbad, Calif., were building a new 7-iron within 30 minutes of the tree incident (it arrived in time for Friday's round). ... Fitzgerald is blameless in it all.

"[McIlroy] doesn't listen to anybody anyway," Chandler said.

Had McIlroy not three-jacked on his first hole (he started on No. 10) and made a few makeable birdie putts, he could have been 4-under by the time he stepped to the par 3 No. 17 tee box. Instead, he was 1-under -- but not for long.

He parachuted his 6-iron shot into the pond and eventually walked away with a triple-bogey. So much for his run at the leaderboard.

"It was tough to come back from that," said McIlroy, who's taking the next two weeks off.

McIlroy was done in by his bad wrist and his bad putting. If it wasn't a major, he said, he probably would have walked off the course Thursday. But he gutted it out and at least he made it to the weekend.

"I feel as if I can still make birdies out there," McIlroy said.

Maybe he can. But no matter what happens, the members of AAC ought to put a plaque near the tree root.

McIlroy's Tree -- Where Rory lost the PGA.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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