By Paul Myers

After shockingly missing The Open Championship at St. Andrews due to an ankle injury suffered playing soccer, Rory McIlroy is set to make his return to competitive golf at the PGA Championship. Rory is the defending champion in this event, but the status of his game is up in the air due to the extended layoff in the middle of the season. Will he come out firing on all cylinders, or will it take some time for his game to round into form? All eyes will be on Rory as he tees it up Thursday with Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson.

One of the concerns going into the event for Rory McIlroy has to be the terrain of the Whistling Straits golf course. The course features plenty of dramatic slopes, which could potentially cause problems for someone who is playing on a recently rehabilitated left ankle. Obviously Rory has tested the ankle and decided he is healthy enough to play, but it will be interesting to see if his ankle is able to hold up for all four rounds.

Golf Swing Questions As Well

For a right handed golfer like McIlroy, an injury to the left ankle is something of a worst-case scenario. The left ankle absorbs much of the force in the golf swing as the club swings down through impact. The torque that McIlroy places on the left ankle is tremendous, especially when he is trying to launch the ball long down the fairway. Even if the pain is gone, Rory will have to hope that the ankle is recovered enough to take the consistent pressure that is applied to that area of the body during the golf swing.

Defending His Spot

Rory McIlroy has held the number one ranking for some time, but that spot is being quickly challenged by the incredible Jordan Spieth. If Spieth wins the PGA Championship, he will take over that top spot from Rory. Obviously, Rory would like nothing more than to ensure that doesn’t happen by defending his title and taking home another Wannamaker Trophy. As if there wasn’t enough pressure already simply playing for a major championship, McIlroy will have to deal with the added nerves that go along with trying to remain the top golfer in the world.

Soft or Firm Conditions

Throughout his career, Rory has thrived on golf courses that have presented softer conditions, while struggling somewhat on firm layouts. Even his Open Championship title in 2014, usually played on dry and fast links courses, was contested over a course that had been softened by rain. The conditions of the course at Whistling Straits will likely have a lot to say about who is holding the trophy on Sunday. A soft golf course would seem to favor a player like Rory or Dustin Johnson, while a faster track would play right into the hands of Jordan Spieth.

Rory McIlroy, despite an absence due to injury, remains the top ranked golfer in the world. However, if he would like to keep that distinction, a wonderful effort in the PGA Championship will likely be required. Jordan Spieth is closing fast in the race for the top spot, but a player as talented as McIlroy certainly won’t concede without a fight.