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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Rory McIlroy should listen his body and forgo the rest of 2017 to be fit and firing for Abu Dhabi in 2018

Northern Irishman has struggled with a rib injury all season and is yet to win a title.

Rory McIlroy dances after hitting some golf balls at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Seth Wenig / AP Photo
Rory McIlroy dances after hitting some golf balls at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Seth Wenig / AP Photo

Rory McIlroy was at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, but he was not there to take in a Major League Baseball game or tour one of America’s most popular sporting arenas.

Instead, the world No 4 was hitting golf balls out into the outfield, part of the PGA Tour’s promotion for the FedEx Cup, which begins this week with the Northern Trust.

McIlroy’s appearance was welcome, since he is in New York City, deemed fit and healthy enough to tee it up on Thursday for the first of the series' four play-off events. It came nine days after he said following a frustrating US PGA Championship that he was considering sitting out the remainder of the year. McIlroy has been blighted by a nagging rib injury sustained at the beginning of the season, with the problem leading to a back issue, which in turn affected his ability to practice.

So McIlroy committing to the FedEx Cup was gladly received, especially given he is defending champion. Even more so because he remains one of the game’s main draws. But then he suggested he could soon draw a line under his 2017.

"I'm OK to play these next four out of five weeks," McIlroy told ESPN. "But then I do need a prolonged period off at some point in 2017 to be ready for 2018."

The inference was that McIlroy would defend his FedEx Cup crown between now and the series-concluding Tour Championship on September 21, then hop over to the European Tour to play the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with his father, Gerry, in early October.

However, thereafter? It looks likely that the clubs will go into storage, and McIlroy will go into a self-enforced hiatus. His 2017 campaign could be finished well before the 2017 World Series.

"I feel like I'm going to have a good bit of time at the end of the year to work on my fitness, to work on my game," McIlroy said about a possible three-and-a-half-month break. "A real, proper off-season. Like every other sport has, basically. I'm excited for that."

There are some who are surprised he chose to contest the play-offs. During this month’s US PGA Championship, with McIlroy struggling, former world No 1 David Duval urged the Northern Irishman to take a prolonged timeout.

“Rory needs to go home and he needs to stop playing right now. He's hurt and I’m watching his golf swing deteriorate," said Duval, whose own career derailed because, in part, he continued to play despite an injured back. "If only I could go back and tell myself 18 to 20 years ago when I started having those problems: 'Stop, get healthy'. He could do himself a big service."

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That's what McIlroy intends to do. It appears he will miss the final few weeks on the Race to Dubai, ruling himself out of the European Tour's season finale, the DP World Tour Championship. That decision - should it come - is understandable. It is necessary, a short-term pain for a long-term gain.

McIlroy, 28, has already stated that next year's Masters, and the opportunity to complete the career grand slam, occupies the mind. "That's the next big thing on my radar,” he said following his tied-22nd at the PGA Championship.

He is winless this year, and should he not triumph at any of his remaining tournaments – last year, McIlroy won two of the four FedEx Cup events – it will represent the first calendar year since turning pro in 2009 that he has failed to secure any hardware. A four-time major champion, it is now three years since his last.

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The rib injury has thus far required two spells on the sidelines. McIlroy has switched equipment from Nike to TaylorMade, while he recently parted company with JP Fitzgerald, his caddie of nine years.

A lengthy break allows him time to recover fully and to settle on a permanent successor to Fitzgerald – a vitally important decision so that, in his own words, he can “hit the ground running” next season. Most probably, that would begin in Abu Dhabi in January.

"I'm happy to do that," McIlroy said. "Because that's an exciting prospect for me, to be able to turn up to 2018 and be ready to go."

Forgo the rest of 2017, get healthy and hungry for 2018? All things considered, that’s a home run.

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