Returning Rory McIlory has Jordan Spieth in his sights

It is a barometer of McIlroy’s pre-eminence that his posts on Instagram and Twitter should dominate the news agenda

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The Independent Online

Fantasy pairing Rory McIlory and Jordan Spieth are setting out together in pursuit of the season’s final major. The long tease over McIlroy’s fitness to contest the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits this week ended with full disclosure on 7 August, a retweet of the pairings on his social media.

It is a barometer of McIlroy’s pre-eminence that his posts on Instagram and Twitter should dominate the news agenda, shoving the live stuff at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational down the schedule.

Boy-wonder Spieth was grinding his way into contention, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Cinderalla man Dustin Johnson were taking lumps out of Firestone with their monster hits, yet none could match the video and photo montage on the McIlroy bulletin board, revealing via tantalising snippets his varying degrees of readiness.

McIlroy arrived in the United States from his Portugal hideout having not uttered a word, yet communicating all we needed to know. More than anything he retained control of the environment, managing his re-entry into the golfing atmosphere at his own pace.

Given the nature of his enforced absence, sustaining a ruptured left ankle ligament playing football  10 days before his most important tournament of the year, the Open Championship, there was always going to be interest in the recovery and when he might return.

McIlroy is an inveterate social-media operator and has an acute understanding not only of the  medium but his own power to move the needle. He will be confronted with a raft of questions when he  attends his pre-tournament press conference as defending champion, but that would have been the case anyway. Only the content is new.

The point is, by controlling the news flow at distance this past week McIlroy has been able to fashion an unlikely return in relative privacy. His match fitness and combat readiness are nowhere near optimised, but McIlroy has historically been as good as any coming out of cold storage. And in his last competitive tournament, the US Open at Chambers Bay six weeks ago, he closed with a 66, reaching six under for his round after just 13 holes.

That should have been seven under having hit his approach to eight feet on the 14th. That would have taken him to within one of the lead. Even Spieth’s knees were knocking at that stage. McIlroy will never die wondering, hence his hasty return to the front line. The game has missed him, and his nascent rivalry with Spieth, who spent two days at Whistling Straits last weekend plotting his route around the quasi links layout on the shores of Lake Michigan an hour north of Milwaukee.

It is traditional to find the winners of the first three majors grouped in the first two rounds at the PGA. Since Spieth claimed the first two there was clearly a space beside him and surprise Open champion Zach Johnson. Who better to fill the slot than the defending champion and world No 1?  Together the threeball boasts the winners of the last five majors.

Spieth starts favourite. He came home on the same charter as his close friend Johnson, the proximity of the Claret Jug a reminder of how close he had come in his attempt to take the grand-slam fable to a final chapter. “I’m hoping to kind of prove, coming off of this last major, that I’ve got a little bit of revenge that I need to get out from having control of the Open Championship with two holes to go and not closing it out,” Spieth said.

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