Rory McIlroy believes the stress fracture in his rib may have been caused by a swing change rather than gym work but reckons his lay-off could be a blessing in disguise for his Masters chances as he faces at least another month on the sidelines sharpening his short game.
The world No 2 told the FOX Sports podcast “The Clubhouse with Shane Bacon” that he may not come back until the WGC - Mexico Championship in Mexico City from March 2-5, meaning he will have been out of action for six weeks.
As we speculated when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the rib and withdrew from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on January 16, he believes the injury may have been caused, in part, by making a slight change in his backswing over the winter:
"Obviously I've hit a lot of balls before Christmas, testing equipment and trying to make a little bit of a swing change as well. My takeaway was getting a little bit behind me at the start of the swing. So I was trying to make sure the club stayed in front of me on the way back and one of the drills I was doing, I was reaching a little bit with my left arm and extending and I think that's basically what we think has happened.
"While I have been trying to make this swing change, it's a pattern that's a little bit, not new to me, it's something I'm trying to get back to. But the way I have been swinging the last two or three months, where it's been getting deep in the backswing a little bit up and across the line a little bit at the top and trying to fix that.
"I think just the combination of trying to make that small tweak in my swing and obviously hitting a lot of balls and a lot of drivers as well, making a lot of swings, it's hard. It's hard testing balls, testing everything and the muscles just basically said, 'We're tired, we don't want to work any more.' And then that put stress on the joint and the joint was like, 'I don't like this either' and then the rib took the brunt of it and decided to... there was a lot of stress and [that led] to a little bit of a fracture."
The root cause of the problem was Nike’s withdrawal from the equipment market last year, which forced McIlroy to test dozens of new clubs and balls in the Middle East before and after Christmas and again in South Africa ahead of his first event of the year.
McIlroy joked he was sent so many club samples that he flew home from Dubai for Christmas with three full flight bags full of equipment, paying $1,500 in excess baggage.
“It was a fun process and great to go through — I just didn’t realise I may have injured myself in the process.”
Reduced to walking a five or six miles a day right now — he's just begun putting again — he knows that the flipside to his lay off is that he will have plenty of time to get his short game sharp for the Masters in 10 weeks’ time.
"I am trying to get back for Mexico," he said. "That's my timetable for returning. I feel like I could get back before that but if I were to play Honda and then go straight to Mexico, that would be playing two weeks in a row. I'd like to ease my way back in gently so Mexico is perfect. It's four rounds. There's no cut. I can see how everything feels and I have a week off after that. So all signs point to Mexico and hopefully it works out that way and that's when I am planning to be back."