Golf: McIlroy at Whistling Straits to prepare for PGA

McIlroy practising at Augusta National Golf Club in a 2015 file photo.
McIlroy practising at Augusta National Golf Club in a 2015 file photo.AFP

(Reuters) - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy arrived at Whistling Straits for a practice round on Saturday as he bids to return to competitive golf from an ankle injury and defend his PGA Championship title at the links-style venue next week.

Reuters exclusively reported on Monday that the four-times major champion had scheduled a practice round at the site for Saturday, a report that turned out to be accurate even though it was denied by the golfer’s publicist.

The Northern Irishman, out of action since he ruptured a ligament in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends on July 4, does not have to commit to the tournament, which starts on Thursday, until his official tee time for the opening round.

McIlroy has been grouped with Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth and British Open winner Zach Johnson for the first two rounds of the year’s final major at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Should he tee off as expected on Thursday, it would be just 40 days since he suffered an injury that some medical experts said might take about three months to heal.

It also would be seven-and-a-half weeks since he tied for ninth in the US Open at Chambers Bay and would give the PGA Championship a huge boost as he and Spieth share top billing.

The 26-year-old Northern Irishman withdrew from the July 9-12 Scottish Open after suffering the ankle injury and was unable to defend his British Open title the following week at St Andrews.

Over the past week, McIlroy has posted a string of teasing videos and messages on Twitter and Instagram highlighting his recovery progress.

On Thursday, he posted on his Instagram account a video of himself pounding a driver on a practice range in Portugal, accompanied by the comment: “Feels good to hit the driver again!”

He also posted two pictures of his left foot, the first showing a very swollen ankle soon after he had suffered the injury and the second revealing a bruised but greatly improved ankle.

“4 and a half and 3 and a half weeks ago respectively... I’ve come a long way since,” McIlroy tweeted.

On Friday, McIlroy hinted strongly at his journey to Whistling Straits by posting a picture of the interior of a private jet with a British passport front and centre on a table.

Accompanying the picture was a series of emojis (or picture characters) indicating a flight from Portugal to the United States followed by a thumbs-up, a victory sign and a golf course symbol.

After a strong start to the 2015 season highlighted by three wins, McIlroy showed signs of fatigue when, in the immediate aftermath of a runaway victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina, he missed the cut at two successive European Tour events in May.

Those missed cuts came at the end of a run of five successive tournaments.

He has played just 12 tournaments this year, nearly half of them in that one stint.

McIlroy won last year’s PGA Championship by one shot after a final-round shootout that finished in near darkness at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.