The Open Championship is likely to be without its star attraction next week as world number one Rory McIlroy nurses a serious ankle injury.
McIlroy ruptured ligaments playing football with friends over the weekend and it seems doubtful he will be able to defend the Claret Jug at St Andrews.
A full assessment of the 26-year-old’s condition will not be possible until later in the week but McIlroy has indicated its severity by describing it as a “total rupture”.
In revealing the injury, the Northern Irishman also posted a photograph of himself on crutches and wearing a protective boot on his Instagram account.
If as serious as suggested, McIlroy might not only miss the Open but face a lengthy spell out, also being deprived of the chance to defend his US PGA Championship title next month.
Dr Ralph Rogers, medical director at the Sports Injury Clinic on London’s Harley Street, told Press Association Sport: “If it is a grade-one sprain, they could put a brace on it and he could go out to play.
“But if it is a total rupture – and he says it is a total rupture – he won’t be there. We are looking at three months, possibly four, and it will require some really intensive rehabilitation.”
Scottish professional Richie Ramsay already fears the worst for McIlroy and can empathise having suffered ankle problems himself.
The 32-year-old tweeted: “I had a full tear of ligaments in my ankle not long ago. It takes a lot longer than you think to heal. 3 months til I played after tearing ligaments and even then getting my foot to work the right way was tough.”
McIlroy’s absence would be an undoubted blow to tournament organisers with the Northern Irishman currently the biggest draw in golf, particularly in Britain, following his two major successes last year.
A further selling point had also been made of his potential rivalry with rising star Jordan Spieth, the new world number two and winner of this year’s Masters and US Open.
On Monday the Texan told the Golf Channel: “For me, it doesn’t change anything.
“It’s still just as challenging. It’s still a major championship and there is a lot of unbelievable talent. I obviously wish he was there.”
Former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said: “I know St Andrews is a golf course he really loves and a golf course that really suits his game. It’s a shame – a shame for the tournament and a shame for Rory if that’s the case.”
No decision on McIlroy’s participation is expected until next week at the earliest. He is currently in Northern Ireland and being assessed by his medical team, which includes experienced physio and sports scientist Dr Stephen McGregor.
McIlroy wrote: “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends on Saturday. Continuing to asses extent of injury and treatment plan day by day. Rehab already started….. Working hard to get back as soon as I can.”
McIlroy was due to play at the Scottish Open at Gullane, which starts on Thursday, to fine-tune his preparations for his Open defence but has now pulled out.
Championship director Peter Adams said: “Naturally the news on Rory having to withdraw from the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is very disappointing for the tournament.
“Any tournament which loses the world number one through injury is going to be affected, but we are still looking forward to hosting one of the strongest fields in Scottish Open history over one of the great links tests at Gullane.
“We wish Rory as speedy a recovery as possible and look forward to seeing him back on the golf course where he belongs as soon he is fully fit to compete again.”