WGC-Bridgestone 2012: Rory McIlroy and 5 Contenders Who Could Win
At one point on Saturday, the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational looked like it could be a runaway victory for Jim Furyk. With a birdie at the par-five second hole, Furyk ran his score to 12-under-par and opened a five-shot lead over the rest of the field on this "moving day."
It looked like a continuation of his first two rounds.
Furyk's opening scores of 63 and 66 were highlighted by a total of just 51 putts combined as he carded his lowest opening 36-hole total of his PGA Tour career on the South Course at Firestone Country Club.
His comfortable cushion, however, turned into a log-jam atop the leaderboard with a host of talented and familiar names providing stiff competition for the 42-year-old veteran.
Four players are within five shots of the lead, and another three (Bo Van Pelt, Justin Rose and John Senden) are lurking just another shot back.
Here are five contenders who could win the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
David Kindervater is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences at the media center at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Jim Furyk came back down to earth after posting that lowest opening 36-hole total of his PGA Tour career.
Furyk carded an even-par round of 70 on Saturday, and by not adding to his tournament-leading total, he allowed a host of players to get themselves into contention.
"The golf course definitely played tougher today," Furyk said in his post-round presser. "We had a little bit more wind going on, the greens firmed up a little bit, and I just felt like it was a lot harder to get iron shots close to the pin."
But Furyk does have a great deal of success to show for his 54-hole leads over the course of his career. Ten of his 16 PGA Tour wins have come when he entered the final round with at least a share of the lead.
And while it's far from an iron-clad guarantee, he has a bit of history working in his favor. In the previous 13 WGC-Bridgestone Invitationals, the second-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win six times.
This tournament alone is a big deal to Furyk, but he also has work to do to claim a spot on the Ryder Cup roster next month. He's currently ranked No. 15 in the U.S. Ryder Cup team standings, and he needs to get into the top eight to automatically qualify.
A win this week might accomplish that.
Coming off a bogey-free 65 in round two, tying the lowest round of his PGA Tour career, Louis Oosthuizen got to within one shot of the lead with a Saturday score of two-under-par 68.
Oosthuizen's round was highlighted by a 400-yard drive on the 665-yard par-five 16th.
(Of course, the fairways here at Firestone are firm and running very fast. Yesterday, Keegan Bradley hit his No. 16 tee shot 442 yards, and today, Bubba Watson matched that number.)
Oosthuizen is having an outstanding year. And while he might be best remembered for his playoff loss to Bubba Watson at the Masters Tournament in April, he has two European Tour victories in 2012—at the Maybank Malaysian Open (the week immediately following the Masters) and the Africa Open.
He also leads the European Tour in driving accuracy and putts per green in regulation.
It's pretty clear that he saves his best for the big events.
"That's what I work for," Oosthuizen said in his post-round presser. "That's what I practice for, to give myself good chances in these events, majors ... I think the more I play them, the more you want to—the better I want to do in them. Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me, a great spot to be in and to test myself in these events. I mean, this is as big as—almost as big as a major. You know, it's a great track, and just going to try and do my best tomorrow."
Oosthuizen already has a major championship to his credit at the 2010 British Open. It's just a matter of time before he starts piling up PGA Tour wins.
If he locks up a win Sunday, he would become only the second player ever to earn his first two victories at a major and a WGC event.
Steve Stricker likes World Golf Challenge events.
With his third consecutive round of two-under-par 68, Stricker is well on his way to a third top-10 finish at a WGC event this year. He managed a T-9 at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February and a T-8 at the Cadillac Championship shortly thereafter.
Stricker is currently five shots off the lead, but he would have been a bit closer—and a lot happier with his Saturday performance—if he hadn't bogeyed two of the final three holes.
If he wins Sunday, Stricker—who won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to open the PGA Tour schedule back in January—would become the only player with multiple PGA Tour wins in each of the past four seasons.
It's about that time of year for Keegan Bradley.
The reigning PGA Championship winner captured his first major title just a little over a year ago, and on the week before this year's final major begins at Kiawah Island, Bradley seems to be finding his form once again.
Bradley hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations he created for himself after capturing his first major championship in 2011. But he does have three top-10 finishes this season so far, including a runner-up playoff result at the Northern Trust Open.
Bradley has struggled since his back-to-back top-10s at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Shell Houston Open back in late March and early April respectively, though, finishing no better than T-24 at the Byron Nelson Championship in May and missing three cuts.
And he's hoping history doesn't repeat itself. Last year at the WGC-Bridgestone, Bradley entered the final round just two shots off the lead, but a back nine 41 left him with a disappointing T-15 finish.
Considering he's the No. 3 ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy has very quietly gotten himself into contention at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Following opening rounds of 70 and 67, McIlroy fired another three-under-par 67 Saturday to get himself to six under par for the tournament and right into the heat of battle atop the leaderboard.
McIlroy looked to be much more in control of his golf swing than he has over the past few months when he missed cuts at three different events. The 2011 U.S. Open champion started the year with top-three finishes in four of his first five events, including a win at the Honda Classic.
Outside of a T-7 finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, his play has been forgettable.
Following his round Saturday, McIlroy said he felt good about his game from tee to green and confirmed his confidence had returned:
"It's getting there, it definitely is," McIlroy said. "I've worked hard to get it back. The last few weeks have been tough, just playing so great. Obviously my expectations every time I tee it up are pretty high, and not to live up to my own expectations is not nice, but I feel like I'm definitely moving in the right direction."
Rory McIlroy playing up to his potential? With a major championship on the horizon, that's potentially very bad news for his peers.