KOHLER, Wisconsin, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Forty days after suffering an ankle injury, Rory McIlroy will launch his title defence in this week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits fully expecting to play well.
Though the Northern Irish world number one has not competed since he tied for ninth in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in June, he pronounced himself ready after giving himself a fitness test over four days in Portugal last week.
"Expectation levels are the same," McIlroy told a packed interview room in the media centre at Whistling Straits on Wednesday on the eve of the year's final major. "I have played quite a number of rounds of golf.
"I've been practising for over three weeks getting my game ready, getting my game sharp. I feel like I'm playing well. Hitting it well on the range ... it's being able to take it from there into tournament play with a card in your hand.
"I expect to play well. I don't see any reason why I can't bring the sort of form that I've shown in practice rounds and on the range to the tee on Thursday afternoon."
McIlroy, who won last year's PGA Championship by one shot after a final-round shootout that finished in near darkness, has been out of action since he ruptured a ligament in his ankle while playing soccer with friends on July 4.
"I thought I broke it, because as soon as I went over on it I heard like a snap," the 26-year-old McIlroy recounted. "Obviously that was the ligament that snapped.
"Thirty seconds later, it got the size of a tennis ball, basically because all the fluid came out of the (torn) joint capsule. When I got the scan that night, it showed that I totally ruptured one ligament and had a grade two in the other.
"As injuries go, it could have been worse. I was lucky that I didn't do more damage and thankfully after five weeks of hard work and rehab I'm back playing."
McIlroy, a four-times major winner who has twice claimed the PGA Championship, said he had benefited greatly from the "24/7" attention of his personal trainer during a comprehensive programme of rehabilitation.
"That's why I was able to get back in five weeks instead of six ... but I don't think that's any surprise given this day and age with everything at our disposal in terms of treatment, machines," he said.
The decision to return to competition this week came down to a test of his fitness when he played 18 holes for four consecutive days in Portugal without using a golf cart.
"Seventy-two holes, playing with no pain, no swelling, nothing like that," McIlroy said. "Then we knew that, 'OK, you're ready to go.' And if I hadn't have passed that test, I wouldn't have been here." (Editing by Larry Fine)