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Rory's dilemma

Rory McIlroy's decision to play on after injuring his right wrist will undoubtedly become part of his legend. The question, says Brian Wacker, is whether it turns out to be heroic or harmful to a potentially great career just taking flight.

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Sacrifice the long term for the short, or do the safe thing and live to fight another day? That, says Brian Wacker, was the question. (Getty Images)

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- If Rory McIlroy were American, he’d be likened to Paul Bunyan.

Scratch that; bad mythological folk hero choice with McIlroy injuring his right wrist on a tree. Perhaps Superman, or the Green Hornet since McIlroy is after all from the Emerald Isle, would be more accurate.

Whatever you want to call him, the legend grows.

What’s next? Will he walk across the water on the diabolical par-3 15th? Turn water into wine and chug it from the Wanamaker Trophy?

No one could have blamed McIlroy if he had pulled out of the PGA Championship on Thursday -- he’s just 22 years old, has arguably the best swing in golf and has an entire career in front of him.

There’s still a chance he could -- he had an MRI Thursday night and has an early tee time Friday with a wrist that needs all the rest and ice it can get -- but he probably won’t.

“It was dangerous,” McIlroy said of his attempt to extract his ball from the pine straw underneath a tree on the third hole.

Superheroes like danger, though.

“I thought if I could make contact with the ball and just let the club go, I might away with it,” said McIlroy, who survived the blow even though his 7-iron didn't.

Isn’t that what Clark Kent always thought every time he slipped into a phone booth, that he could get away with it without anyone finding out his real identity?

Even if McIlroy, who shot an even-par 70 on a day when the other guy who used to wear a red cape on the golf course shot a 77, were able to pull off a miracle it wouldn’t exactly be Tiger Woods winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg, or Ben Hogan doing the same in 1950 after a near-fatal car accident a year earlier.

But it would be something, especially if you saw the winces and grimaces and all the near one-handed swings his last 15 holes.

“It was just like a sharp pain up the forearm, and then there's a little bit of swelling, just on the inside of my wrist,” McIlroy said. “Then it was going up into my elbow and my shoulder.

“It's basically when I go through impact -- I was in a lot of pain.”

Hey, no pain no gain. In McIlroy's case, however, there is plenty to lose.

Sacrifice the long term for the short, or do the safe and smart thing and live to fight another day? That was the question.

“It’s the last major of the year,” McIlroy said. “So I might as well try and play through the pain and get it over and done with.”

Besides, superheroes aren’t superheroes because they’re safe and smart.

Go ask Arron Oberholser about wrist injuries, though. Or Anthony Kim. Or Trevor Immelman. Or Luke Donald.

Sure, you can’t much swing a club without your legs, but the hands are connected to the thing. And even if you can play through the pain, there’s a bigger issue to worry about, like protecting a career and arguably the best swing in golf.

“They said it’s your decision,” McIlroy said when asked if he was told that he wouldn’t injure himself further by continuing to play. “If you want to play on and you feel comfortable doing that, but if not, there’s no point in risking it.”

The great ones always take risks. That’s, in part, what makes them great.

Of course, the wrong move and McIlroy’s future, at least in the near term, could be over and done with.

Oberholser injured his wrist in 2007 and hasn’t been the same since, relegated to TV appearances and Twitter rather than the golf course.

Kim played through pain for two years and finally won in 2010 despite a bum thumb. He went under the knife a month later and hasn’t played to nearly the same level.

After Immelman won the 2008 Masters, he too underwent surgery on his left wrist and just now is starting to return to form.

Donald almost never got the chance to become the No. 1 player in the world. He had left wrist surgery in 2008 and it took three years for him to win again.

In McIlroy's case, the initial diagnosis late Thursday was a strained tendon. But he's not letting that be his Kryptonite.