Injured Rory bravely soldiers on

RORY McILROY’S hopes of a second Major championship victory in three starts hung in the balance last night after the US Open winner injured his wrist during his opening round at the 93rd PGA Championship.

Tournament favourite McIlroy hurt his right wrist after striking a tree root while playing out of rough at the third hole as he got his first round under way at the final major of the year at Atlanta Athletic Club.

The 22-year-old from Holywood had parred his opening two holes before sending his tee shot at the par-four third into the left rough behind a line of trees.

Facing an awkward lie with his ball up against the root, McIlroy attempted to blast his way out of trouble through the tree canopy rather than just punch out onto the fairway.

He paid for the decision, as he played his shot his seven iron struck the root and the Ulsterman immediately let go of the club, shaking his wrist in obvious discomfort as the ball hit a tree further along and bounced back into rough.

Before he played his next shot, McIlroy called for a medical timeout and began icing the wrist before finishing the hole with a bogey.

Playing partner Darren Clarke, the Open champion, appeared to offer his friend some advice as the pair played the fourth as the icing continued between shots, which were greeted with grimacing as his clubs made contact with the ball, removing his right hand on his follow through.

There was more treatment from a physiotherapist, who appeared to be testing the range of movement in the affected joint and, remarkably, there followed back-to-back birdies as McIlroy began engineering an unlikely comeback. But the pain remained and McIlroy was soon calling for a doctor. There was a bogey at the par-four eighth after his par putt lipped out and the doctor returned at the ninth tee to this time strap the wrist. That appeared to cause some immediate relief as the world number four drove the par-four ninth, this time holding onto his club through the complete backswing on the way to a par which took McIlroy out in level par.

There was some re-strapping of the wrist at the 10th tee as McIlroy doggedly continued his opening round but the bandaging, which covered his right palm and stretched up his forearm, must have been affecting his feel for the club.

It was a brave display from McIlroy but the wisdom of continuing the opening round was becoming a bigger gamble with his longer-term fitness at risk with every swing of the club. And yet another birdie followed, at the par-five 12th, McIlroy having been forced to lay up with his second shot after taking on an awful and potential tournament-ending lie in a pot-hole in the rough.

The upshot was that McIlroy was one under heading into the final four-hole stretch.

It was not just McIlroy’s wrist that was highlighting the unpredictable nature of recent major championship golf during an eventful and steamy opening day at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Steve Stricker made great inroads to become the seventh consecutive first-time major winner with his record-equalling opening round 63, Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa was anything but as he hit 22 shots worse than that and Tiger Woods, returning to the majors for the first time since the Masters, shot the worst opening score in his majors career.

On a rollercoaster Thursday in the American South Stricker grabbed the 18-hole clubhouse lead at seven under par with fellow Wisconsin native and veteran Jerry Kelly posting a five-under 65, and 2003 PGA champion Shaun Micheel rounding out an early top three of fortysomethings by reaching four under after 15 holes.

Yet another oldie, Scott Verplank, was in the clubhouse with a three-under 67 and he was joined at that mark by Australia’s perennial contender of the past 12 months Jason Day, who had reached the 14th in three under.

What was notable about Stricker and Kelly’s success is their accuracy off the tee rather than any prodigious length, which follows the pattern of previous Major winnners at Atlanta Athletic Club, Jerry Pate, Larry Nelson and 2001 PGA champion David Toms.

Course management was just one of the problems blighting Woods’s return to the Majors as he carded a 77 having been three under after six holes. I

Woods’s playing partner Padraig Harrington fared four shots better with a 73 but Open champion Clarke, playing in the traditional 2011 major winners’ group with McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel, had failed to shake his post-victory slough and was seven over par after 14 holes, while Graeme McDowell was two over after 12.

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