FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 file photo, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a tee shot during the WGC-HSBC Champions golf tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China. Rory McIlroy turned in a third-round 67, to play an intriguing battle on Sunday Jan. 14, 2017.
JOHANNESBURG — One tournament into the new year, Rory McIlroy is going for tests on his back Monday to make sure he is fit enough to play Abu Dhabi without further damage.
McIlroy felt pain in his back before the second round of the South African Open, and it lingered throughout the final round, where he closed with a 67 and lost in a playoff to Graeme Storm.
McIlroy was flying to Dubai on Sunday and said he would have an MRI "just to see what's up with this joint in my back."
"It's OK," McIlroy said on the European Tour's website. "It was manageable this week. I'm taped up and I've got a few pills in me and I'm fine. But first and foremost, that's the most important thing, to get fit and healthy again. And hopefully, I'll be all right to play next week."
The runner-up finish looks to be enough for McIlroy to have a chance to return to No. 1 in the world if he were to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which in recent years has been the strongest field of the year among regular European Tour events. Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler are among those playing.
McIlroy has not been atop the world rankings since September 2015. He is scheduled to play Abu Dhabi and then Dubai two weeks after that.
"If I go to Abu Dhabi next week and win, I think I get back to No. 1, so it's a nice goal to have going into next week," McIlroy said. "I really want to make next week because there's so much to play for. But at the same time, there's so much to play for this season. I don't want to jeopardize long-term goals for short-term gains. So we'll see. Hopefully, I'll be good to go."