McIlroy's injury, Woods' struggles add to drama
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Rory McIlroy looked at his ball, resting against a tree root, and decided to take a whack at it.
The U.S. Open champion injured his right wrist with the ill-advised swing Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
McIlroy played on after his mishap at the third hole, but in obvious pain. He had the wrist checked out by a physical therapist, and felt that it wouldn't get any worse. He also had the wrist taped up, looking more like a football player than a golfer.
"It was just like a sharp pain up the forearm, and then there's a little bit of swelling, just on the inside of my wrist," said the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland. "And then it was going up into my elbow and my shoulder."
It hurt every time he struck the ball, but he gutted out 15 more holes for an even-par 70 that left him seven strokes behind leader Steve Stricker.
While McIlroy was enduring physical pain, Tiger Woods experienced the pain of wayward shots and a high score.
Woods was 3-under par through his first five holes, but he said he then rejected his new fundamentals and played on "feel." In the end, all he felt was anger.
Woods shot 7-over par 77, his worst first round ever in a major championship, after having a start that was good enough to make his fans believe he would be in contention. As it stands, he will have to scramble to make the cut today.
Back to McIlroy.
Considering the circumstances, he couldn't have asked for much more — other than having back a couple of short missed putts that kept him from breaking into the red.
"To be honest, considering I finished with one hand, I hit some good shots," McIlroy said. "It was always there in my mind. So to shoot even par, it was a good effort."
After tapping out for par at the 18th hole, McIlroy used his left hand to congratulate others in his group with a back-handed handshake, his right arm dangling by his side.
After signing his scorecard and meeting briefly with the media, he headed off to get an MRI. Assuming there's no major damage, he'll be back today for the second round — soreness and all.
"It's the last major of the year," he said. "I've got, what, six or seven months to the Masters. So I might as well try and play through the pain and get it over and done with."
McIlroy got into trouble when he drove it among the trees left of the third fairway, the ball stopping against a large, thick root sticking above the ground, about 2 inches wide. Instead of just punching back into the clearing, McIlroy chose to go aggressively at the flag with a 7-iron.
As soon as he struck the ball, he let the club fall out of his hands. Not soon enough. He began to shake his arm and flex the wrist. Within minutes, he asked for an ice compress, which he held on his wrist between shots.
In hindsight, not a good decision — especially since he failed to escape the trees with his risky shot and wound up taking bogey anyway.
"It was dangerous," McIlroy conceded. "I think the tree was maybe a foot in front of the ball, and thought if I could make contact with the ball and just let the club go, I might get away with it. ... It would have been better to chip out sideways. I still made 5."
At the par-3 fourth, McIlroy again dropped the club after striking his tee shot. He still managed to get on the green and two-putt for par. Then, at the fifth, PGA Tour therapist Jeff Hendra came out on the course to examine the wrist, causing a brief delay for McIlroy's threesome.
"There's a couple of points where I thought about not continuing," McIlroy said.
Hendra bent the wrist back sharply several times, trying to determine if McIlroy had caused any serious damage. The player was satisfied with what he heard and rejoined his group: British Open champion Darren Clarke and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel.
"It's just going through impact, it hurts a little bit," McIlroy said.
He has no intent of giving up on a shot at his second major championship unless he absolutely must.
"If it's the same (today) and I know that I'm not going to do anymore damage to it, I'll play," McIlroy said. "It's a very important tournament, and I'm still even par. I'm still in the hunt."
Woods, now that's another matter.
He was asked if he was dejected by the turnaround and his finish — when he was done, he was 14 strokes behind leader Steve Stricker — Woods said, "I'm not down. I'm really angry right now," he said. "There are a lot of other words I could use."
The anger was directed at himself for abandoning the emphasis on his new swing.
"It's frustrating because my shots don't shape like they used to. I don't shape the ball as much. I went ahead and played by feel," he said. "It cost me the whole round."
His round began to unravel on the brutal 265-yard par-3 15th hole, which was his sixth of the day because he started on No. 10. By then, he had made three birdies and was 3 under because, he said, he was thinking of the mechanics of the new swing that he and instructor Sean Foley have been working on.
A 4-iron shot that was meant to land on the front of the green instead found the big water hazard. He pitched short and two-putted for a double-bogey 5. He bogeyed the 16th, after having been in two bunkers, and double bogeyed 18 — after having been in two bunkers. So the golfer who had been 3 under made the turn at 2 over.
Things got no better for him on his second nine. He made double-bogey 6 on No. 6, hitting out of a bunker into another water hazard. Woods finished with a bogey on No. 9, again having been in a fairway bunker and a greenside bunker.
Woods is in danger of being finished for the season. He is currently 129th on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup list and needs to get into the top 125 to make the playoffs, starting with the Barclays in New Jersey two weeks from now. He will not play in a tour event next week, he said, so he needs to move up four places this week — something he can't do if he misses the cut.