SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - To be perfectly honest about the most widely discussed left ankle in sports, Rory McIlroy probably can't bend it like Beckham. But he insisted Monday that it is strong and limber enough to get around Whistling Straits and allow him to defend his PGA Championship title starting Thursday.
"To play golf, it's 100 percent," McIlroy told reporters after playing nine holes Monday, his third successive day of practice at the hilly course. "To go back on a soccer pitch, it wouldn't be quite ready. But to do what I need to do this week, it's 100 percent."
It was soccer, he has said, that caused his recent problems and forced him to miss the British Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, where he also would have been the defending champion. Thus, golf was without its current answer to international soccer superstar David Beckham, inspiration of the cult film, "Bend It Like Beckham."
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, is passionate about Manchester United (one of Beckham's former teams) and everything else about the sport he calls football.
He said he was playing an informal "kick-about" with buddies on July 4 when he suffered serious ligament damage. McIlroy has not played competitive golf since.
He has been working on his conditioning and his short game, particularly recently on a rehabilitation trip to Portugal. His exercises have been supervised by fitness consultant Steve McGregor, who has worked with soccer clubs Manchester City and Aston Villa as well as the Knicks.
"It wasn't like I was trying to get back for this. It just so happened that I was feeling good enough to go this week," he said in an impromptu interview Monday (he is scheduled for his formal news conference Wednesday). "It actually feels better when I go at it as hard as I want, because my left foot sort of spins out of the way whenever I hit the driver anyway."
Besides, he said his short game has remained sharp because he has been working on it all along. Even while his foot was immobilized in a boot, he was putting.
So the world's No. 1 player will play in an event he has won twice, including last year, when he defeated Phil Mickelson by a shot and beat dusk by a few minutes. Plus he will return to a venue that brought something of a major breakthrough for him. Five years ago, when he was only 21, he came within one shot of the playoff at the PGA.
McIlroy will be part of an all-star threesome at 2:20 Thursday along with Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson. They are the last three men to have won majors, having captured the past five.
That is one of several eye-catching groupings for the first two days. One of the others includes Long Islander Matt Dobyns, the Fresh Meadow Country Club head pro and reigning PGA Professional National Champion, with Colin Montgomerie and John Daly.
"I just met Colin Montgomerie at lunch. He seems like a really wonderful person," Dobyns said. "And then John Daly is an icon in the game of golf. So I couldn't have asked for a better group."
Dobyns said he once met Daly during a charity outing when Dobyns was at the University of Texas and Daly was "at his height." Daly invited the women's team members back to his recreational vehicle, Dobyns recalled, "and I kind of tagged along. I hid behind the biggest girl."