Darren Clarke admitted he was “taking the p***” when he insisted this week that Rory McIlroy would be out of action until January.
While he world No 1 is in race against time to be fit to defend the US PGA in four weeks’ time, his backroom team is hopeful that he can make the FedEx Cup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Clarke prompted speculation that McIlroy could be out for the rest of the season when he accepted an award on McIlroy’s behalf at the Association of Golf Writers’ Dinner in St Andrews on Tuesday night.
He shocked guests when he said Rory was looking forward to seeing everyone again “in January”.
McIlroy’s team was bombarded with emails and Clarke quickly back-tracked yesterday, insisting: "I was only joking. I was taking the p**s and everyone took me seriously.”
According to McIlroy’s team, the next few weeks are crucial and they will reveal whether the Holywood ace is a fast or a slow healer.
It could be at least six or eight weeks before he can hope to play again after rupturing his left ATFL (ankle ligament) playing football with friends on July 4.
And while that would mean he will not be able to defend the Wanamaker Trophy in from August 13-16, nobody knows for sure.
McIlroy’s Tour Manager, Sean O’Flaherty said the four-time major winner is at home in Belfast recuperating.
“Rory is in great spirits,” O’Flaherty said. “He’s positive and happy and looking forward to working through the process of getting back.”
He ruled out all talk of surgery and explained that it’s not an injury that requires going under the knife.
However, he added that it’s impossible to know exactly when the Holywood star will come back.
“I am not a doctor, so I can’t really say. But seemingly you just need time. It has to heal," his spokesman said. "Seemingly when a ligament is ruptured, its like an elastic band. You don’t repair and elastic band. It can’t heal. Once it’s torn it’s torn.
“It’s one of the three ligaments around the ankle — you don’t actually need it. You just strengthen the area around it.”
The PGA of America is keen to know if McIlroy will be ready to defend the US PGA at Whistling Straits but McIlroy’s team can give them no assurances.
“The PGA is keen to know but we have no more updates and we’ll let him know when we do,” O’Flaherty said.
“Will he be hitting balls in a month? Don’t know. Will he be hitting balls in six weeks? Don’t know. Will he be hitting balls in three months? I don’t know.
“I am not a doctor. All I know is that until he can have the relative movement. He won’t be hitting balls.”
McIlroy has said that he won’t return until he is 100 percent fit and 100 percent competitive and that might be good news for the European and PGA Tours.
“100 percent fit is 100 percent fit. But Rory always starts the year in Abu Dhabi and he starts very well and generally does about five or six days to get ready,” O’Flaherty said. “He doesn’t need that much leeway. A lot of guys need months. He doesn’t need months to get sharp.”
Asked if McIlroy fans should buy their tickets for the US PGA, O'Flaherty joked: “All I can say is definitely buy your tickets for the Race to Dubai. He’ll definitely be back before then.”