HAVEN, Wis. – Rory McIlroy walked with the usual boyish bounce in his step. He smashed a driver on the longer holes at Whistling Straits. He even jogged up and down a couple of small hills.
If he felt any discomfort in his left ankle, which he injured in early July while kicking around a soccer ball with friends, it wasn’t apparent Saturday.
In a brief interview as he walked quickly from the 18th green to the parking lot, McIlroy deemed his first practice round for the 97th PGA Championship a success.
“Yeah, it’s good,” McIlroy said. “Good to get a look at the course. Obviously, I have decent memories from five years ago. Yeah, good.”
McIlroy, 26, of Northern Ireland, finished one shot out of a playoff in the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits. He is the defending PGA champion and is ranked No. 1 in the world by a narrow margin over Jordan Spieth.
But McIlroy hasn’t played a competitive round since injuring the ankle July 4. He announced two days later that he had sustained a “total rupture” of his left anterior talofibular ligament.
Last week, McIlroy posted a workout video on Instagram that showed him balancing on his left foot on a foam pad and tossing a weighted ball underhand to mimic a golf swing. A day later, he posted video of himself hitting one drive, fueling speculation that he would begin his comeback at Whistling Straits.
He teed off under overcast skies around 8 a.m. Saturday, played all 18 holes from the tips and wasted little time getting around the course, walking quickly between shots. He said he shot “a couple over” par.
How did his ankle hold up?
“It’s good. It’s good,” he said. “Obviously, getting around a golf course like this, playing 18 holes, it felt fine. It doesn’t feel, I mean, it’s good. I’ve come a long way in five weeks. This has been the five-week mark today from when I did it.
“I think maybe there’s just a little stiffness in the mornings, but it’s good.”
McIlroy, an 11-time PGA Tour winner, hasn’t played since he tied for ninth at the U.S. Open in June. Earlier in the year, he finished fourth at the Masters, tied for eighth at The Players Championship and won the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play and the Wells Fargo Championship.
He was not able to defend his British Open title last month because of the injury.
Unless he suffers a setback during practice rounds, McIlroy will play the first two rounds of the PGA Championship with Spieth, winner of the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, and Zach Johnson, who won the British Open and denied Spieth a shot at the Grand Slam.
McIlroy said his game was in decent shape, despite the long layoff.
“The game is good,” he said. “I’ve been practicing for the last sort of week and a half. It’s coming together pretty well.”
Whistling Straits is not an easy course to walk because of its sand dunes, bunkers and uneven terrain.
Notah Begay, a former PGA Tour player and now a Golf Channel analyst, said it was unlikely McIlroy would be at his best physically for 72 holes.
“It’s a pretty hilly golf course,” Begay said. “There’s a lot of up and down and when you’re dealing with ligaments in that ankle, even if he is 80 percent, 90 percent, I don’t think he’s going to be 80 percent, 90 percent by Saturday and Sunday.”