JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Rory McIlroy is fast becoming an also-ran at the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, but he's soldiering on despite an injured right arm that's getting more attention than leader Steve Stricker.
Playing through pain in his wrist and arm after hitting a tree root on the third hole of his opening round (photos), McIlroy took 33 putts, including three three-putts, and fired a second-round 73 to fall to three over for the tournament, well behind the leaders.
"It's very frustrating," said McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open by eight shots in June. "I felt like I'm hitting the ball okay, I just didn't putt very well at all."
After an MRI on Thursday night found no structural damage, McIlroy decided he would sleep on it and opt in or out of Friday's round after hitting a few shots on the range in the morning. When the arm felt stiff but less painful, and he was told he would do no more damage in the ordinary course of play, he decided to continue despite feeling only "70, 75 percent" healthy, he said afterward.
"I feel as if I can still make birdies out there," he said. "If I don't think I could contend, I probably wouldn't be playing. So I feel as if there's a decent one out there tomorrow, a 66 or a 65, get myself back into red numbers and maybe shoot something similar on Sunday and see where that leaves me."
Scores of 70-73 will be enough for McIlroy to make the cut and beat Tiger Woods, but that's cold comfort. More was expected of golf's incandescent new talent until he injured himself going for a risky second shot in the first round.
"Hindsight is a great thing," McIlroy said. "It was a mistake in judgment. I thought I would be able to get away with it, let go of the club at impact, and it would be okay. But it's hard to let go at the right moment; the club is coming down so fast. Just let go a little bit too late and jarred [the arm] with the tree root."
Asked whether his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, should have pulled him off the shot before it happened, McIlroy said, "He's my caddie, not my father." Playing partner Charl Schwartzel, the reigning Masters champion, shot 71 and was at two over for the tournament. British Open winner Darren Clarke, the third member of the group, shot 76 after an opening-round 78 and will miss the cut.
McIlroy played with a heavily taped right forearm and flexed his right wrist between shots. He made a handful of one-armed follow-throughs, taking his right arm off the club, but some of those were simply his reaction to poor shots. His round took a major hit when his 6-iron off the tee on the 211-yard, par-3 17th caught a gust of wind and plopped in the water. His third shot spun too far back from the pin, and he three-putted for a triple-bogey 6.
"It was tough to come back from that," McIlroy said.
Ironically, his long game appeared to be unaffected. McIlroy hit drives of 329 yards on the second hole and 334 on the fifth, making him fourth in second-round driving distance among Friday's early wave. After he bettered Schwartzel's drive by a few yards on the 556-yard, par-5 fifth hole, McIlroy gave Schwartzel a hearty slap on the back with his right arm as they went up the fairway.
In a microcosm of his second round, McIlroy hit the green in two but three-putted for a disappointing par after smashing his first putt well past the hole.
"If it wasn't a major," he said, "I probably would have stopped yesterday."