PGA blog: McIlroy injures wrist but presses on

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts as he loses his club after hitting a tree root on the third hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts as he loses his club after hitting a tree root on the third hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

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3:45 p.m.: McIlroy injures wrist, continues to play

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Rory McIlroy is playing hurt in the opening round of the PGA Championship.

You just can't tell by his score.

McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion, sustained an injury to his right wrist while playing a shot out of the trees on the third hole at Atlanta Athletic Club. He appeared to hit a root, releasing the club almost immediately after impact, and he began flexing and massaging his wrist. After every shot he has applied an ice pack. On the fifth hole, he was tended to by a physical therapist. On No. 8, a trainer wrapped tape around his wrist and forearm, like a boxer getting ready to enter the ring.

Yet, somehow, he ran off two consecutive birdies on the front side and sits at 1 under par through 14 holes.

After initially hurting his wrist -- the kind of injury that, in some cases, has derailed careers -- McIlroy spoke with his fellow playing competitors, Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel, and PGA rules officials, presumably discussing whether he would withdraw, but continued to play. He was assured by the physiotherapist that he would incur no further damage to his wrist if he kept playing.

McIlroy's absence would have been a devastating loss for the tournament on a day when Tiger Woods shot 77 and is in danger of missing the cut. In June, McIlroy, 22, won the U.S. Open by eight shots. The Northern Irishman is the fifth-ranked player in the world.

– Ryan Lavner

• • •

3 p.m.: Sowards looking to make the cut

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Bob Sowards has lived life as both a club and playing professional. He had a PGA Tour card as recently as 2008 after advancing through Q-School. He’s at the PGA Championship as a club pro, but playing like a guy who competes at this game full-time.

Sowards, a teaching pro at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, started the PGA Championship with a 1-under 69. He’s making his fifth PGA appearance. This was his first sub-par round. He’s never made the cut.

“I’m going to be looking at the cut line,” Sowards said. “Hopefully I won’t have to. ... I felt fantastic. I don’t know how many putts I had but I had well over 30. I hit it solid every shot.”

Sowards got in the field by finishing 12th at this year’s PGA Professional National Championship, an event he won in 2004. When Sowards played the PGA Tour in 2008, he finished 188th on the money list with a T-9 at the Wyndham Championship as his best finish. He played the Nationwide Tour in 2009, making nine of 22 cuts and having just one top-25.

Sowards was the PGA’s Professional Player of the Year from 2003-05.

- Sean Martin

•••

2:55 p.m.: Bunkers playing like hazards

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Stewart Cink said you almost never get a good lie. David Toms called them a half-stroke penalty. Gary Woodland spent nearly an hour during a practice round trying to figure them out.

Yep, at this PGA, the bunkers are actually playing like hazards.

Since 2001, the last time Atlanta Athletic Club hosted the PGA, more squiggly bunkers have been added to the Highland Course. They are pinched closer to the fairway, they feature deeper faces, and the sand is “soft and fluffy,” said Adam Scott.

“The ball flies in and it’s got a chance of burying,” said Davis Love III, who shot 68, “and if it rolls in, it’s digging in.”

That makes for inconsistent contact and an unpredictable shot pattern. During a practice round Tuesday, Woodland dropped a handful of balls in a fairway bunker and tried to reach the green. More often than not, he never made the putting surface. Some came up short, some flew long.

“There’s just a lot of sand in the fairway bunkers,” Woodland said. “Sometimes you have to blade it just to get it out. It’s brutal. I’d rather be in the rough than in the fairway bunkers. The greenside bunkers aren’t as bad as the fairway bunkers.”

Toms, the ’01 PGA champion here, said “they are just hard to hit out of them. I haven’t seen a good shot in practice, not today.” There’s no way to compare the bunkers to 2001, he said, because there are more of them and their design has changed.

Stewart Cink, who shot 69, was asked if the fairway bunkers were fair. He smiled and said: “They’re fair because they’re not supposed to be easy.”

- Ryan Lavner

•••

2:30 p.m.: 'You just have to hang on for dear life'

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- About the only guy seemingly unaffected by the Tiger-Stevie drama was the same one who won last week.

Brimming with confidence after an impressive performance last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Adam Scott was cruising along before dropping shots on the final two holes for a 1-under 69 Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club. He’s six shots back of PGA leader Steve Stricker (63).

“The focus for me is to play well in the big events this year,” said Scott, who tied for second at the Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open and tied for 25th at the Open Championship. “My results have been fairly solid.”

None more impressive than his triumph last week in Akron, Ohio, where he won by four shots to capture his first World Golf Championship. Of course, his caddie, Steve Williams, got more of the attention with his post-round comments. That was OK with Scott.

“Hopefully we’ll just go and let our clubs do the talking the rest of the week,” he said Tuesday.

Starting on the back nine, Scott was 3 under par as he played his final two holes, but dropped shots on both Nos. 8 and 9 -- the latter after missing a 5-footer.

“You just have to hang on for dear life,” Scott said. “There’s not a lot of letup out there.”

- Ryan Lavner

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