Golf's Next Great Rivalry Put on Hold After Rory McIlroy's Unfortunate Injury

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2015

Getty Images

We almost were blessed with the Jordan Spieth-Rory McIlroy showdown in the recent 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

Only a series of putting struggles early in the tournament prevented McIlroy from being there at the end to challenge Spieth, who won when Dustin Johnson arguably choked away a chance for his own victory or at least a playoff by three-putting from 12 feet on the final hole.

McIlroy's injury will keep fans from seeing a battle for the ages...at least for now.
McIlroy's injury will keep fans from seeing a battle for the ages...at least for now.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Now, though, who knows when we'll finally get to see McIlroy and Spieth battle for a major championship down the stretch on a glorious Sunday afternoon?

It almost certainly is not going to happen July 16-19 in the British Open at St Andrews. Not after McIlroy announced via Instagram on Monday that he had suffered a total rupture of a left ankle ligament "and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends" last Saturday (via USA Today).

The news left the golfing world aghast. Shane Bacon of Fox Sports put it in perspective, writing:

This major was supposed to be their battle. This was going to be their true coming out party. We never got Phil vs. Tiger in a real, serious major, and Sergio vs. Tiger literally was nearly two decades ago, but this generation we were going to get the two best battling on the biggest stage, dammit, and this was going to be the start.

Even though McIlroy has at least nine days of rehabilitation left and has not ruled himself out yet, it appears highly unlikely that he will be able to able to mount even a token defense of the title he won in dominating fashion last year at Royal Liverpool.

McIlroy himself offered a sliver of optimism when he wrote on Instagram: "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."

McIlroy's unfortunate injury sucks more than a little energy out of The Open Championship, largely because of the anticipation that he'd play well at St Andrews. He finished tied for third there in the 2010 tournament after opening with a 63 and somehow nearly lifting the Claret Jug after struggling to an 80 in the second round.

He led wire to wire last year at Royal Liverpool to claim his third major by the age of 25.

The only other two golfers to own three majors by the age of 25 are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Spieth, meanwhile, has plenty of time to make that a foursome. He's only 21, but he's already chasing his third consecutive major conquest of 2015 after winning both the Masters and the U.S. Open. Should he win the third leg at St Andrews, only the PGA Championship will remain for him to complete the Grand Slam in a single season.

The only golfer in history to ever do that was Bobby Jones in 1930, and it wasn't even called the Grand Slam then. Plus, a pair of the legs then were the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur.

But we digress.

McIlroy played well enough in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, closing with a final round of 66 to finish in a tie for ninth, only five shots behind Spieth's four-day winning total of five under 275.

But because McIlroy struggled early in that tournament, and because Spieth crushed everyone en route to winning the Masters, we're still left waiting for the sweet drama that a Sunday duel to the finish between these two would bring to the golfing world.

Will Spieth overtake McIlroy in the rankings while the latter overcomes his injury?
Will Spieth overtake McIlroy in the rankings while the latter overcomes his injury?Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

It's not a rivalry yet because that hasn't happened.

Maybe it never will, the same way Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson never developed as so many had hoped and seemingly had every right to expect. Mickelson himself might have bet on it.

But McIlroy-Spieth is now the hot rivalry-in-waiting that everyone wants to see. They're both young and powerful with complete games that are equal parts artistry, pure magic and brute force.

McIlroy, now 26, is ranked No. 1 in the world. Spieth is No. 2.

But does anyone really want to see Spieth overtake Rory for No. 1 because of an injury keeping McIlroy out or at the very least rendering him ineffective? It could happen if McIlroy can't play or plays poorly while Spieth stays hot at St Andrews.

Sergio Garcia certainly isn't alone in his expectation that we won't see McIlroy at all at St Andrews, as Garcia expressed his well wishes for Rory on Twitter:

What was McIlroy doing kicking a soccer ball around with friends with The Open Championship less than two weeks away? We may never know for sure. It might have been really stupid, if we later come to find out he actually was taking "the soccer kickabout" far too seriously. It might have been no more than bad luck.

Fellow golfer Shane Lowry said he doesn't think McIlroy should be criticized for the manner in which he was injured. At the same time Lowry admitted that he doesn't think the Northern Irishman stands much of a chance to play well at St Andrews even if he can miraculously suit up for it.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroyCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

"It's not ideal for him because he's wearing that boot and he's going to have everyone in the media on his back now," Lowry told the Irish Times (via the Dallas Morning News).

"But should he be playing football? I don't know. He likes playing football, and he likes playing football with his mates. What's wrong with that? ... People think because you're good at something you should just do that and focus on that, but that's not what life is about."

Maybe so, but the bottom line is that McIlroy now isn't the only obvious loser in this equation.

We all are.

Joe Menzer has written six sports-related books and sometimes attempts chasing the little white ball around golf courses while also writing about golf and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

Related

    Tiger: Masters 'Took a Lot Out of Me'

    Woods talks to reporters before British Open

    Golf logo
    Golf

    Tiger: Masters 'Took a Lot Out of Me'

    Woods talks to reporters before British Open

    Christopher Simpson
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Tiger's Driver Passes R&A Testing at The Open

    Golf logo
    Golf

    Report: Tiger's Driver Passes R&A Testing at The Open

    Golf Channel
    via Golf Channel

    Rory McIlroy, 2 Irelands and a Complicated Open Homecoming

    Golf logo
    Golf

    Rory McIlroy, 2 Irelands and a Complicated Open Homecoming

    Ian O'Connor
    via ESPN.com

    Woods' Blunt Assessment of His Game: 'Not as Sharp as I'd Like'

    Golf logo
    Golf

    Woods' Blunt Assessment of His Game: 'Not as Sharp as I'd Like'

    Golf Channel
    via Golf Channel