Rory McIlroy battling Tiger Woods-like back and knee pain at Memorial

Andy Lyons

Rory McIlroy may or may not be the next coming of Tiger Woods, but the other superstar Nike pitchman must hope his health does not mirror that of the 14-time major winner.

Rory McIlroy has been called the "next Tiger Woods," "Tigeresque," and prognosticated as the player not named Tiger Woods most likely to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.

Now, the two-time major champion, who demolished Muirfield Village to the tune of 9-under 63 on Thursday, lugs personal baggage with him to the course and may be embarking upon a similar injury trajectory as the winner of 14 grand slam events.

"I felt like I tweaked it [left knee] on my second shot on the seventh. I wear spikes, so sometimes your foot can get stuck in the ground and you can torque your knee a little too much," McIlroy told reporters on Thursday after taking a three-shot 18-hole lead over a trio of players including Bubba Watson at the Memorial Tournament. "The inside of it is sore, it's a little swollen."

McIlroy said he would seek treatment and ice the affected area and hoped to be ready for his 8:26 a.m. ET tee time.

"Haven't really had it before. Sort of strange," he said, adding that he arrived at Jack Nicklaus’ tourney with another injury that was new to the 25-year-old. "I came here with ‑‑ tweaked my back on Friday evening at Wentworth and played through that at the weekend last weekend. And I tweaked my knee here this week.

"But I'll be okay. Some treatment and I should be fine for the morning."

For sure, McIlroy made it to the tee on time and promptly dropped a shot on his first hole, the par-4 10th. He got it back with a birdie on the par-3 12th so the golf world can exhale about whether the heir apparent can make it through the contest and, more important, will be able to make his start at the Tiger-less U.S. Open in less than two weeks. An immediate double-bogey six followed, however, and the collective shallow breathing commenced again.

With Woods announcing on Wednesday that he would miss playing Pinehurst, the punditry turned its lonely eyes to McIlroy and Adam Scott, both of whom put on sterling performances last week in winning their respective competitions and raising hope that 2014 golf could still be exciting even with the PGA Tour’s money-maker sidelined after back surgery.

McIlroy’s obvious knee pain recalled the cameras catching Woods wincing his way through the last competitive round he carded at Doral on March 9. Golf Channel said on Thursday that Woods’ Nike stablemate tweaked his knee during a recent workout -- more shades of Tiger and the critics who say his robust gym regimen has made him too buff and prone to injuries like those possibly now besetting McIlroy.

It was not until the seventh hole, however, that McIlroy, after smacking a fairway wood on the par-5, began limping, grimacing, and tending to his leg.

Indeed, as Brendan Porath noted on Thursday, GC analyst Nick Faldo said the weight that McIlroy puts on his leg was "like Tiger."

As for his private life, the former groom-to-be has so far not let such distractions keep him from the golf tasks at hand. Last week, he won his first match of the year at the BMW PGA Championship and his thrashing of Muirfield Village in round one brought memories of each of his eight-stroke major championship victories.

McIlroy let his clubs to his talking, as he declined to comment on rumors that he dumped his betrothed during a three-minute phone call -- unnamed-sourced gossip that Brian Keough sought to debunk by quoting other unidentified sources saying the golfer and his tennis-playing ex-fiancee Caroline Wozniacki had "lengthy conversations in the last few days" before Rory’s announcement of the breakup.

In any case, McIlroy’s opening 63 was the best score he’s posted at Jack’s place and there’s still a long way to go on Friday after that bogey and double.

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