Defending champion Rory McIlroy playing Tour Championship despite back injury

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy teed off in the second to last group of the Tour Championship, but not without some concern.

As first reported by Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis, McIlroy, the defending champion in the FedEx Cup, is nursing an injury to his lower back suffered earlier this week at his home.

“It’s a muscular issue,” Lewis tweeted. “This morning he arrived at East Lake, received treatment and hit 20 balls, which was the first time he hit balls this week. He will it up today for Tour Championship but may have discomfort.”

McIlroy didn’t mention an injury during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday morning, but he also wasn’t asked if anything was ailing him. There is no pro-am at the Tour Championship and McIlroy took the last two days off to give his back a rest.

He finished third on Sunday at the BMW Championship and enters the Tour Championship in third place with a starting position of 7 under in the staggered-start tournament, three strokes behind Scottie Scheffler. Last year, McIlroy fell as many as 11 strokes behind before erasing a six-stroke deficit in the final round to become the first three-time champion of the FedEx Cup. He’s attempting to become the first player to win the Cup back-to-back.

McIlroy has $18 million reasons — the prize for winning the FedEx Cup — for attempting to play this week despite back trouble. There’s also a scenario where he could return to world No. 1.

McIlroy is expected to take next week off and then compete in the Horizon Irish Open (Sept. 7-10) followed by the BMW PGA Championship (Sept. 14-17) ahead of the Ryder Cup (Sept. 29-Oct. 1).

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek