McIlroy withdraws from Abu Dhabi with rib "stress fracture"
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 23:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in action during the third round of the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 23:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in action during the third round of the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has been forced to withdraw from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after tests revealed he has sustained a rib injury — specifically, a stress fracture.

The Northern Irishman underwent extensive clinical examinations on Monday after picking up the injury in South Africa last week and will now commence rehabilitation and return to golf when he is fully recovered from the stress fracture.

Recovery from stress fractures in the ribs can take anything from a few weeks to several months, depending on the patient and the seriousness of the fracture. But McIlroy sounded unlikely to rush and he still has plenty of time to prepare for the Masters.

In a statement issue by the European Tour, he said: “It’s bitterly disappointing to have to withdraw from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. I think everyone knows how much I love playing this tournament, which is one of the best on the European Tour thanks to the incredible support of HSBC and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

"To be forced to miss this week through injury is really quite annoying to be perfectly honest, but I am sure the tournament will be a huge success and I hope everyone involved has a great week.

“In situations like this you simply have to listen to the experts and the team I have consulted have all advised me to rest until my rib has fully recovered."

McIlroy picked up his injury ahead of the BMW SA Open on Friday but managed to play on, despite breathing difficulties, and take Graeme Storm all the way to sudden-death.

The injury will curtail his build up for the Masters, which begins in 10 weeks. 

McIlroy was planning to play eight build up events before the Masters and while he debuted with a runner up finish in the first of them, the BMW SA Open in Johannesburg last week, his plans have already been changed by his enforced withdrawal from Abu Dhabi

He is scheduled to play the Omega Dubai Desert Classic from February 2-5, where Tiger Woods is also entered, before heading to the US for the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles from February 16-19.

The Honda Classic, the WGC-Mexico Championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Matchplay were also likely starts.

The final field list for the ‘Desert Swing’ opener in Abu Dhabi is still a strong one with two of the world’s top four golfers and three of the four major winners from 2016 in world No 3 Dustin Johnson (US Open), No 4 Henrik Stenson (The Open) and Masters champion Danny Willett all taking part.

Ryder Cup players Rickie Fowler, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood and Chris Wood are also in the field.

McIlroy played in pain in South Africa, using strapping and anti-inflammatories to get through the event before having an MRI scan in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

He did not appear to know the exact cause of the injury during the BMW SA Open, venturing that it might have been caused by hitting too many golf balls with the driver during a lengthy equipment testing period both before and after Christmas.

"This muscle spasm that I have around the joint is sort of subsiding and I will go get some treatment today, and I will get some treatment tomorrow before I go out and hopefully it’s going to get better," McIlroy said after the third round in South Africa on Saturday

“If it’s a muscular thing then it’s just fatigue. I mean I have hit a lot of golf balls over the last four or five weeks – testing equipment and I have hit a lot of drivers as well, so I think that’s probably just the thing.

"I have been hitting a lot of drivers – I mean, you put a lot of force on your body when you do that – so maybe I’ll take it easy over the next few days. I think with better rest and more treatment I should be fine."

A stress fracture in a rib could have been caused by anything from gym work to simply swinging in a different way.

Whatever the cause, he has time on his side as he tries to get healthy in time for his third tilt at completing the career grand slam in early April.