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A 'joke' at The Open ignites confusion over Rory McIlroy’s return from injury

Rory McIlroy may or may not be back in competition before the end of the year. Carry on.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy is noticeably absent from this week’s British Open but news about his wobbly left ankle was all over St. Andrews on Wednesday and it depends on whom you believe as to when the current world No. 1 will return to action.

McIlroy’s countryman, Darren Clarke, kicked off the confusion with a comment he made — and then immediately retracted — during a golf writers’ dinner on Tuesday night. Clarke, in McIlroy’s stead accepting his Player of the Year award at the banquet, said the golf world would not see Rory until January, according to Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte. McIlroy ruptured his anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) on July 4 playing soccer with friends.

"He then said, ‘Just kidding,’ then said, ‘No, I’m not,’" reported Rosaforte, to whom Clarke later confirmed he was, indeed, only joking.

Much ado ensued, said Rosaforte, who has his finger on the pulse of Rory’s condition and hears that McIlroy will be sidelined for some six to eight weeks. That means he would be unable to defend his titles at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational starting Aug. 6 and at the PGA Championship a week later.

To confuse matters even more, Belfast Live published photos late Wednesday of McIlroy, sans his walking boot, leaving a gym in his home town of Holywood. Evidence that the four-time major champ sported a less bulky brace on his bum wheel than the he wore in his Instagram announcement last week of his British Open withdrawal sparked speculation that McIlroy could be returning to competition sooner rather than later.

As for what Clarke had to say, McIlroy’s agent Sean O’Flaherty told Press Association Sport "there was no basis" for his comments.

"Rory’s rehabilitation is progressing well but his return date is not yet known," said O’Flaherty.

What is known is that McIlroy — in whatever state of rehab he is in — will lose his top ranking if No. 2 Jordan Spieth prevails Sunday on the Old Course.