McIlroy says reduced schedule is a mental rather than physical precaution

McIlroy says reduced schedule is a mental rather than physical precaution

World No 1 Rory Mcilroy listens attentively during his press conference in Boston.

If you think Rory McIlroy is battling his own ego as well as Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and the other big names hot on his heels, think again.

As far as the world No 1 is concerned, the fact that he can't play the required number of events on the European Tour this season — something which required a special exemption from Chief Executive — has less to do with his ankle as such and everything to do with how "agitated" he now becomes when he has to play for more than three weeks in a row.

Forget that he dashed back to tour action for the US PGA after a lightning recovery from a total rupture of his left ATFL that has left him at risk of a career-threatening relapse, McIlroy is all about patience now, not holding on to his world No 1 ranking.

It's mental, not physical, he insisted on the eve of the Deutsche Bank Championship, where both Spieth and Day can finish the week as world No 1.

Asked if felt more "urgency" now to step up his game given that Spieth and Day have thrown down the gauntlet, McIlroy said: "No, not at all. I'm staying very patient.

"It hasn't been the summer I would have hoped for, obviously, coming back from an injury and not really being in the conversation in terms of trying to win the two majors in the summer, with limited playing opportunities.

"My first week back at the PGA a couple of weeks ago. I felt under the circumstances I did pretty well, to shoot 9-under par over four days. I didn't think that was going to be 11 shots back at the end of the week.

"No, there's no sense of urgency. I know that my game is in good shape. And if I can go out there and stay patient and just let things happen hopefully I can start to get in contention and have chances to win."

The European Tour is bending its rules over participation in the Race to Dubai Final Series by allowing McIlroy to tee it up even though he is not going to meet the 13-event minimum.

That decision was clearly made on the basis of the medical opinion of Dr Roger Hawkes, who said: “From the evidence presented to me... there is a risk of permanent instability of the ankle which could seriously affect both his golf swing - you need stability in the left ankle during the follow through – and for walking safely on uneven surfaces.

“Although he played again after a few weeks, he will need close attention for about a year. The suggestion of a reduced schedule and, wherever possible, avoiding back-to-back events is, in my opinion, sensible and important to allow adequate healing and reduce the chance of the complications mentioned which could clearly jeopardise his career.”

Two in a row? McIlroy doesn't want to play more than three in a row that because he gets "agitated" rather than sore in the ankles.

"Yeah, even in years that I haven't injured myself three is—three I feel is always my number, even though I've played four—I played four last year in the FedExCup and whatever. I think three is sort of my limit. I can play three.

"And obviously there's a physical element to it, but previously and going forward it's more a mental. Once you play three weeks in a row, I can feel myself just get a little bit agitated easier. So three weeks is my limit."

Clearly, McIlroy has targets to meet. Very precise targets. 

"I've got a good run of events coming up to put another couple of wins on the board before the end of the year," he said. "I feel like I'm playing well enough to do that.. .I had a goal this year to try to get my points average up to a certain level, and it wasn't about trying to stay No. 1 in the world. I knew if I played well this is the points that I can average week in and week out.

"I set myself that goal start of the year. I haven't quite got there. But I feel like with the tournaments I have left this year it's still quite attainable."

As for the new Big Three debate—McIlroy called it a "narrative" that was good for the media to "run with"—Spieth got the Holywood man's vote as the real world No 1 right now. Sort of.

"It's hard. If you went on the one year system in terms of the World Rankings, you've got to say Jordan. And then Jason, I would say. If you were to do it more on a short-term basis you'd have to say Jordan. They both have four wins, Jordan has won a couple of majors."

Day and Spieth, who were in the media centre before McIlroy, didn't pick themselves either.

"It's enjoyable," Spieth said of the Big Three narrative. "It was the Big One. And after the Masters, it was the Big Two. And Rickie won the PLAYERS, then it was the Big Three.

"The U.S. (Open) happened and it was the Big Two. And Jason won three out of four weeks, it's the Big Three. I just hope I stay in the "big" moment, whenever it changes next. I hope I'm the one staying in that space.

"And there's no doubt that, like I just said, Jason is the best golfer in the world right now, at the present moment, there's no doubt in my mind."

World No 3 Day didn't agree.

"Rory, is that right, in World Rankings, Rory right now. I can't say I'm the No. 1 player in the world right now, I just can't do it. There's two guys ahead of me that have played phenomenal golf over the last years. I've played good golf, but I really played fantastic golf currently, just in the last seven weeks. The rankings are the rankings, and I couldn't go and say, no, I'm the best player in the world right now."