CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Golf may need to start putting its biggest stars on milk cartons as missing persons. First it was Tiger Woods. Now Rory McIlroy could be disappearing.
The world No. 4 surprised fans after the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday when he admitted that he could be done for the year as he attempts to regain his health.
McIlroy arrived at Quail Hollow as the odds-on favorite but struggled on a course where he has twice won regular PGA Tour events. He closed with his best round of the week, a 3-under 68, to finish the year’s final major at 1-over 285, good for T-22, nine strokes back of winner Justin Thomas.
After signing his card the Northern Irishman revealed he is considering sitting out the remainder of 2017 to deal with a lingering injury in the left rhomboid muscle of his back.
“I have upped my practice coming in because I wanted to feel like I was in a good place in my game,” McIlroy said. “But it’s a tough one because I go out there and play and shoot decent scores, but when I come off the course, I feel my left rhomboid going onto spasm. The inside of my left arm goes numb.”
If McIlroy shuts down his season, it will sap some serious star power from the FedExCup Playoffs, which he won last year. The first playoff event is in just two weeks.
The four-time major winner has battled physical issues all year. He suffered a cracked rib in January and was benched until March. After returning and logging three top-10 finishes, including a T-7 at the Masters, the rib problem flared again and he went back on the DL, making only sporadic appearances this summer.
Further complicating his season have been the highs and lows of golf’s two most important relationships. In April he married Erica Stoll. Last month he divorced longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald after finishing T-4 in the British Open. McIlroy hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, and is firmly focused on the Masters next April, where victory would make him only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.
“The next big thing is April and that’s really what my focus will be on from now until then,” McIlroy said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks time.”
Just 28, McIlroy plans to return to Europe and work with his fitness coach Steve McGregor and consult with doctors. He entered this week 43rd in the FedExCup rankings and could probably skip at least the first two of the four events.
At least McIlroy has some idea of when he might get back to golf. Woods hasn’t played since withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic in February and it’s unclear when, or if, he’ll return to the PGA Tour. He was arrested on a DUI charge in May, a month after undergoing his fourth back surgery.
With one superstar MIA for an undetermined time, and another unsure of when he might play again, the Tour will find itself leaning ever harder on the “Snapchat superstar” generation of Thomas and Jordan Spieth to sell the product.
The Millennials might be the last men standing.
(Note: This story appears in the Aug. 14 2017 issue of Golfweek.)