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Ankle injury shelves Rory McIlroy for Bridgestone event

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal

Gainesville, Va. — Rory McIlroy’s ankle injury suffered during a recreational game of soccer is becoming more costly by the week.

McIlroy already missed defending his British Open title on a St. Andrews course that is special to him. On Wednesday, the world’s No. 1 player announced through the PGA Tour that he will not be able to try for back-to-back victories in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at another venue he cherishes.

In a tour release, McIlroy announced his withdrawal from next week’s $9.25 million Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, where he recorded a 2-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia in 2014.

“Unfortunately, I will not be defending my World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational title,” McIlroy said in a statement. “Best of luck to all the competitors, and I look forward to returning to Firestone in 2016.”

McIlroy has played in Akron since 2009 and has four top-10 finishes in six appearances. Last year, McIlroy rated Firestone South No. 5 on his top 10 list of favorite courses in the world on Golf.com.

“He was a great champion last year. I know if his ankle would let him, he’d be here,” tournament director Don Padgett III said by phone. “But we’re excited about the field we have coming. Jordan Spieth, with the summer he’s having, Rickie Fowler is having a breakout year, 1/8British3/8 Open champion Zach Johnson ... the field we have is pretty spectacular. We will miss Rory, but wish him a speedy recovery.”

Also withdrawing was Chris Kirk, a four-time tour winner who broke his right hand playing with his children before the British Open.

Those already qualified for the Bridgestone Invitational have until 5 p.m. Friday to commit, but Padgett said the rest of those eligible had officially done that.

Padgett said the field stands at 76 players, but could increase if Sunday’s winner of the Quicken Loans National in Gainesville, Va., has not previously qualified or if there is a change in the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings. The field does not include eight-time Bridgestone champion Tiger Woods, who needs to win the Quicken Loans National to play at Firestone.

McIlroy’s season took an unfortunate turn with the injury and the disappointment continues. On July 6, the 26-year-old from Northern Ireland announced via Instagram that he ruptured the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends at home. The picture he posted showed him on crutches.

Wednesday’s statement gave no hint of McIlroy’s plan for the rest of the year. He is also the defending champion at the PGA Championship Aug. 13-16 at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis. Had his ankle sufficiently healed, the Bridgestone was thought to be a perfect tune-up because it is a four-day, no-cut tournament. A four-time major winner, McIlroy also captured the PGA in 2012.

“I’m taking a long-term view of this injury and, although rehab is progressing well, I want to come back to tournament play when I feel 100 percent healthy and 100 percent competitive,” McIlroy posted on Instagram when he withdrew from the British Open.

Obviously, 100 percent is still days or weeks away.

Whistling Straits could be a challenge for McIlroy because it is a difficult walking course even for healthy players. Scott Verplank twisted his right foot in a pothole there during the 2004 PGA Championship, which might have cost him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

England’s Justin Rose inquired about McIlroy during the British Open and was told McIlroy is “doing his best to be back as quick as possible.”

“I think we’ll definitely see him for the FedExCup, start of that, and hopefully the PGA,” Rose said Wednesday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. “I know obviously to miss the season’s final major would make the injury an even bigger blow to him.”

The FedExCup playoffs, a series of four events that culminates with the Tour Championship, begin Aug. 27-30 with The Barclays in Edison, N.J.

McIlroy plays right-handed and puts much force on his left ankle, especially on his drives, which have averaged 306.2 yards this year on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy’s last event was the U.S. Open on June 21 at Chambers Bay, where he finished tied for ninth. In his absence, Jordan Spieth, the world’s second-ranked player who has captured the Masters, U.S. Open, John Deere Classic and Valspar Championship this year, has closed the points gap on McIlroy’s No. 1 ranking.

McIlroy has two victories in 2015 — in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and the Wells Fargo Championship.