IT WAS a light-hearted football match between friends which could turn out to be the most expensive kickabout ever.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s leading golfer, looks set to miss out on a potential seven-figure payday and the chance to retain his Open title after suffering a serious ankle injury while playing football at home in Northern Ireland.
He was due to play in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane this week to fine tune his preparations, but pulled out of the tournament last night.
But with less than a fortnight to go before the 144th Open begins at the Old Course in St Andrews, the 26-year-old is laid up on crutches and could even require surgery.
He said he had suffered a “total rupture” of a ligament during what he described as a “kickabout” at the weekend with friends.
He wrote: “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends on Saturday.
“Continuing to assess extent of injury and treatment plan day by day. Rehab already started … Working hard to get back as soon as I can.”
After his triumph at last year’s Open – which earned him winnings of £975,000 – the world number one is now facing a race against time to take part in this year’s tournament, where the winner will take home £1,150,000.
He has yet to be fully assessed and has not ruled himself out of the Open, which begins on 16 July, but his hopes of retaining the title have been dealt a major blow.
Recovery from such injuries in athletes can typically take weeks or, in the worst cases, months or even require surgery. It is understood McIlroy will have further scans in the coming days and a full prognosis will become clear in due course.
Should he be sidelined and be out of action for more than a month, he could also be doubtful for next month’s US PGA Championship, the year’s final major and another title he currently holds.
McIlroy was the favourite for the title at St Andrews and much had been made of a potential rivalry with Jordan Spieth, who has risen to second in the world rankings after winning the year’s first two majors.
Paul McGinley, McIlroy’s captain at last year’s Ryder Cup, heard the news as he visited Wimbledon yesterday and expressed his disappointment at the prospect of McIlroy not featuring at the home of golf.
McGinley said: “I’m sure he’ll be very disappointed. I’d like to find out a little bit more because sometimes these injuries can settle down very quickly. But it’ll be a blow not just for Rory but a blow for the game as a whole.
“I know St Andrews is a golf course he really loves and a golf course that really suits his game. It’s a shame, a shame for the tournament and a shame for Rory if that’s the case.”
Former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance said he was “in complete shock” after learning of McIlroy’s injury, adding: “That’s a big blow to [the Open] if he misses it. That’s obviously bad news and I’d just wish him all the best.”