Rory set to kick off comeback
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

On Wednesday in his press conference ahead of the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy has no intention of halting any type of normal activities he does off the course with his friends, including playing soccer. McIlroy, who tore a ligament in his left ankle during a friendly kickabout in early July, might take more precautions in the future, like perhaps wearing ankle braces, but he he’ll continue to live his life as he pleases, despite the potential risk for injuries. After all, accidents happen even when the most extreme safety measures are in place.

“I might take some precautionary measures next time,” he said. “Because I rolled my right ankle at the end of 2013. Obviously I did it a little bit worse here to my left, but maybe wear ankle braces on both ankles. But apart from that, I’m not going to stop doing what I do. I enjoy that part of my life, I enjoy having that normality in my life, something that I’ve done since I was a kid and I won’t stop doing that, no.”

McIlroy, who suffered the injury while visiting his friends at home in Belfast, admitted to playing soccer four or five times during his trip over the 10-day period — it’s one of their regular activities.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened,” said the world no. 1. “It can happen walking off a tee box. It can happen falling off a curb on the side of the street. It can happen doing anything. And unfortunately, my foot just got stuck on the turf and went over on it. And I was out for a few weeks.”

(I can tell you all about the different foolish ways you can hurt your left ankle. I’ve done it about every way possible.)

When he initially fell, McIlroy thought he had broken his ankle after hearing a snap — which turned out to be his ligament. Less than a minute afterward, his ankle had swollen up to the size of a tennis ball. He feels fortunate he didn’t endure a more serious injury.

“It could have been much worse,” he said. “It could have required surgery. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. And I’ve done a lot of rehab and a lot of hard work to get back as quickly as I could. I was always going to do that. I wasn’t trying to focus on any one event to try and get back for, I just wanted to try and get back as quickly as possible and it just so happened that this is the event that I felt a hundred percent ready to come back and play.”

McIlroy tested out his ankle as part of the rehab process last week in Portugal, playing and walking 72 holes without any pain.

“Once I completed that, that was basically like my fitness test,” said McIlroy. “Four days in a row, 72 holes, playing with no pain, no swelling, no anything like that. Then we knew that, okay, you’re ready to go. And if I hadn’t have passed that test, I wouldn’t have been here.

“We did contemplate maybe trying to do that at the Bridgestone, but doing that in front of guys in the media, the eyes of the world, it probably wasn’t a great idea. So to do it behind closed doors and to see how it reacted, we thought that was a better idea. Once I was able to complete that then I knew it was the right decision to get on the plane and come here.”

McIlroy was a little concerned with the long flight from Portugal to Wisconsin since the cabin pressure often causes injured ankles to swell, but thanks to some machines for compression and ice, he didn’t incur any inflammation, which he felt was a good sign.

McIlroy isn’t taking any painkillers this week and he’s slowly been progressing and strengthening his ankle. Two weeks after enduring the injury, he started to take one- or two-hour walks to build up stamina. During the week of the Open Championship, he was out walking again with the aid of ankle brace. Just this morning, McIlroy went on a 20-minute run, so it appears the ankle’s alright and he’s ready to go and attempt to defend his title.

“It’s just about trying to strengthen the ankle and maintain as much integrity in it as possible,” said McIlroy. “So for the rest of my career it’s going to be a matter of maybe doing a few extra single leg stuff in the gym and rubber cushion stuff just to maintain the integrity of the ankle, but it’s really not anything to be concerned about in the long term.”

Despite the 5-6 week layoff, McIlroy, who won the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships, still has high hopes as he kicks off his title defense starting Thursday.

“Expectation levels are the same,” he said. “I have played quite a number of rounds of golf. I’ve been practicing for over three weeks getting my game ready, getting my game sharp. I feel like I’m playing well. Hitting it well on the range. I’ve taken that onto the course in practice rounds and from there it’s being able to take it from there into tournament play with a card in your hand.

“But I expect to play well. I don’t see any reason why I can’t bring the sort of form that I’ve shown in practice rounds and on the range to the tee on Thursday afternoon.”

Since McIlroy couldn’t take full swings for a while, his short game may have benefited as a result, which could come in handy this week at Whistling Straits — though the rough is so thick around the greens that chipping could become a bit of a crapshoot. However, the course sets up well for him this week, with the conditions playing soft and long. When it played hard and fast in 2010, McIlroy made a run on the back nine and finished one stroke out of getting into the playoff, so don’t count him out.

Now, as for who the best player in the world is right now regardless of the world rankings, McIlroy thinks it’s a toss-up between him and Jordan Spieth, who won the first two majors of the season at the Masters and the U.S. Open. Actually, Spieth could dethrone McIlroy and take over the top ranking given the following scenarios:

1. Jordan wins and Rory is not 2nd alone.

2. Jordan is 2nd alone and Rory is not in the Top 6.

3. Jordan is tied 2nd with one other and Rory is not in the Top 13.

4. Jordan is tied 2nd with two others and Rory is not in the Top 33.

5. Jordan is 3rd alone and Rory misses the cut.

“If you were to go by this year, you would have to say Jordan,” said McIlroy. “I would say if you go over the last two years, I would say it’s probably a toss up between Jordan and myself. That’s a hard one. It’s all — okay, we have got the rankings there, but it’s all a matter of opinion.

“People are going to place importance on different aspects of the game and if people place more importance on some of the parts of the game that I’m stronger at, then they might say that I am. But if some people place more importance on some of the attributes that he is a little stronger than me then they would say he is. So it’s all a matter of opinion at this point.”

Asked for his opinion as a follow-up, Rory smiled and said, “I’ll tell you at the end of this week.”