PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As if the TPC Sawgrass isn't enough of a challenge, Rory McIlroy is dealing with another dose of back pain at The Players Championship and will have it tested at the end of the week.
McIlroy already missed four tournaments over seven weeks earlier this year when he felt soreness in his back during the South African Open, where he lost in a playoff, and then was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his rib.
After salvaging a 1-under 71 on Friday, he said the pain was in about the same spot. He plans to get an MRI on Monday when he gets to Northern Ireland.
"It's in the same area as what the injury was at the start of the year," McIlroy said. "If that injury was an 8 or a 9 in terms of pain and soreness and stiffness, this is around a 4 or 5. It might just be a flare-up of what happened previously and I just need to rest for a few days and it might be OK. Hopefully, that's what it shows in the scan next week."
In the meantime, he said the pain was manageable with rest and treatment. Sweltering heat doesn't hurt, and the four-time major champion assured himself of two more rounds at the TPC Sawgrass after navigating the firm conditions and endless water hazards with two birdies in his round of 71.
McIlroy was at even-par 144, and the way the course is playing, anyone who makes the cut is still very much in the mix.
Even so, it was a concern.
McIlroy worked hard in the offseason while testing new equipment. He believes the problem this time might have stemmed from his busy schedule once he was healthy enough to play, and then a three-week break after the Masters to get married and go on his honeymoon.
After returning from the first injury to the Mexico Championship, where he had the 36-hole lead and tied for seventh, McIlroy played four times in six weeks through the Masters, and then after his marriage, got right back to work.
Maybe it was too much too soon.
"My body adapted and got used to playing and practicing again," McIlroy said. "And then I went back at it on Friday and instead of maybe gradually building it up again, I hit balls for four or five hours on Friday and did the same on Saturday. I felt a bit of stiffness on Sunday, hit a couple of drives that didn't feel quite right. So I maybe should have just taken it a bit easier over the weekend, but I was excited to get back, excited to get ready to play again.
"Maybe just being a little over keen was a detriment."
McIlroy has gone through this enough that while he's not a doctor, he still has a pretty good idea that this soreness is more about the muscles than the joint.
He already missed two European Tour events in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Dubai). He'll head home after this week to get ready for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the flagship event in Europe.
"It's obviously not 100 percent," he said. "But it's good enough to get myself around here for the next couple of days. I'm going for an MRI scan on Monday just to make sure it's not serious, and then I'll see what we do from there."