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Hitting golf balls in Yankee Stadium, Rory McIlroy says he’s OK to play in Northern Trust

Golfer Rory McIlroy poses for a picture during

Golfer Rory McIlroy poses for a picture during an event at Yankee Stadium on  Aug. 22, 2017. McIlroy was there to be part of a donation by FedEx to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Rory McIlroy is not quite up to swinging for the fences. He admitted Tuesday he is not 100 percent. When he was asked how he feels, he did not expand beyond, “I’m fine. I’m OK.” Still, he decided that playing through a rib injury this week will do more good than harm.

Not long after he finished the PGA Championship with spasms in a back muscle, numbness in his arm and a ton of doubt about his schedule, McIlroy will tee it up in the Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club on Thursday. There he was Tuesday, joining teenager Mary Browder Howell of Kentucky, hitting wedge shots to targets on the field at Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve never been here before. It’s awesome. It’s great to be here and it’s cool to hit golf balls as well,” he said after having taken swings from the Delta Club porch overlooking home plate. His presence there was another effort to do good. He brought attention to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which received a $1 million donation in his name from FedEx (a Yankees business partner) because McIlroy won the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup last season.

He would like to win it again this year. He would like to win anything, such as the FedEx Cup playoff-opening tournament this week in Old Westbury. “I’d love to start next year in Hawaii, with the tournament of champions,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gone a season without a win. I think it has to go back to 2008. So I’m here to play and compete. I’ll hopefully get the whole way through to the Tour Championship, and then I’ll reassess.”

Reassessment was the theme last week, too, after he had seemed very discouraged about his physical situation at the close of the PGA. But he went home to Ireland and met with the doctor who heads his medical team. The two decided it will not be too much of a risk to go through the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“I’m not 100 percent but I’m at a percent that I feel like I can compete,” he said. “There’s inflammation in there and it acts up every now and then. It’s OK to play through these four or five weeks but I do need a prolonged period of time off.”

So, he said he has one eye on the playoffs and one eye on being completely healthy for 2018.

“I want to be as ready as I ever have been to get to Augusta,” the four-time major winner said, referring to the fact he needs the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam.

What he clearly was not doing Tuesday — before and after he shot toward placards near the bases, down the foul lines and in centerfield — was thinking that playing with an injury merits a nomination for Profiles in Courage. Instead, he saluted people at St. Jude’s Hospital, to which his foundation has contributed.

Rick Shadyac, president of the hospital’s fundraising arm, said, “No family will ever receive a bill from St. Jude’s.” He thanked McIlroy for helping out and cited success stories such as the teen who alternated pitch shots with the pro. Howell has completed cancer treatment at St. Jude’s and is now a straight-A student and solid junior golfer.

“It’s inspiring to see someone come through a battle like that and achieve and be as successful as she has been,” McIlroy said. “It’s incredible . . . to see someone like that, who has come through a battle 100 times harder than anything I’ve had to go through in my life.”

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