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Rory McIlroy explains back injury, what he’s doing to play through pain

ATLANTA — Less than 24 hours before his Thursday tee time at the Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy couldn’t address a golf ball. That’s how much his lower-right back hurt.

“I was at the bottom of a squat, a body-weight squat, and my whole lower back spasmed, seized up. I couldn’t move,” McIlroy said. “So to get to where I am today is good.”

The 34-year-old McIlroy grimaced frequently and set a personal record for one-armed finishes but posted a gritty round of even-par 70 at East Lake in the first round of the Tour Championship, the final playoff event that will determine the FedEx Cup champion.

McIlroy, who is the defending champ, started the day three strokes behind in the staggered-start tournament and claimed to be “over the moon” to not lose any ground. He said he’s suffering from a muscle spasm that began bothering him earlier in the week.

“The muscle spasm is what’s giving me the discomfort,” he said. “I think when I play a lot of golf, especially the end of the season, I always have to manage my right side. My right side always gets pretty tight, my rib cage, intercostals, lats, like, all the way down, right hip.”

On Tuesday morning, McIlroy said he felt a little tight, and he stretched and used a foam roller at his home gym.

“I went to grab something and my whole right side just completely seized up, spasm. So I spent two hours with the physio at home, flew up here, felt a little better, some treatment, then Wednesday morning still my right side was feeling better, and then went into the gym just to do some movements and stuff,” he said.

McIlroy said he arrived at the golf course Thursday six hours before his 1:49 p.m. ET tee time, hopped in the cold plunge and worked with a team of trainers on his ailing back. He hit 20 wedges around 10 a.m., the first balls he has hit since competing Sunday at the BMW Championship.

Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the 2023 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“I felt OK, so then just thought I would give it a go,” he said. “I was always going to tee off. It was just a matter of how I felt on the course. And it got progressively a little tighter as I went, but it will hopefully get loosened up here and just another 18 hours of recovery and go again tomorrow.”

McIlroy didn’t seem to be swinging full tilt, but he still was able to outdrive Jon Rahm at the first hole. He made two bogeys on the front nine and didn’t make a birdie until his 10th hole. In all, McIlroy made four birdies and four bogeys for the day.

“I hung in there and I just felt like if I could get through today, it’s better than it was yesterday, hopefully tomorrow’s better than it was today, and just sort of try to keep progressing,” he said.

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