Round 4 Recap
Give it up for Rory McIlroy. The Champion Golfer of the Year from two weeks ago reascended to the top spot in the world rankings on Sunday, seizing victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
A hot start saw McIlroy card three birdies in as many holes and birdie four of the next five. Although he cooled off somewhat from there, McIlroy kept booming majestic drives en route to a four-under 66, good enough for a two-stroke win over Sergio Garcia.
Check out how the game's premier young star fared on all 18 holes at Firestone Country Club's South Course, along with the final leaderboard results for the best finishers:
The two-shot win was the same margin McIlroy beat Garcia by at Hoylake, only this time Garcia began the final round with a three-stroke lead. McIlroy still managed to chase him down, adding yet another prestigious title to his ever-growing resume.
McIlroy wound up finishing 15 under par overall, overcoming an elite field en route to his maiden victory in a World Golf Championship. Former European Tour pro Gary Evans weighed in on McIlroy's marvelous display off the tee:
It can't be overstated how well McIlroy was driving it. Even with no roll, he kept pummeling it 300 yards or more with regularity, leaving short approach shots that set up stress-free pars and enough birdies to keep him out in front once he wrested the lead away from Garcia.
Firestone is not a wide-open course, with rather thick rough flanking the fairways and ungenerous landing areas. That didn't stop McIlroy from pulling the biggest club in his bag constantly, putting on an exhibition golf fans won't soon forget.
Garcia managed to follow up his Open Championship showing with excellent form, challenging McIlroy to the end yet again. Rickie Fowler tied Garcia at Hoylake and finished in the top 10. Down the stretch, Adam Scott did his best to finish in the top five and keep McIlroy from going to World No. 1, but wound up in a tie for eighth, matching Garcia with a 71.
With Americans in past PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley and prior WGC champion Patrick Reed vying for Ryder Cup spots, neither could come close to matching McIlroy. With all of those factors considered and the quality of competition he faced, McIlroy has to enter next week's PGA Championship at Valhalla as the prohibitive favorite.
Shane Bacon of Yahoo Sports weighed in on what Sunday's outcome means for both McIlroy and Garcia moving forward to the season's final major:
Rory is in "that league" right now. You know the league I'm talking about.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 3, 2014
Not Sergio's day but don't think this will rattle him like it used to. Rory is at another level right now. Sergio will be a factor next week— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 3, 2014
This does indeed appear to be the dawn of a new era in golf. Tiger Woods withdrew on Sunday after tweaking his back, which he underwent surgery on earlier this year and missed months rehabbing. Woods won the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, the last time the tournament was held there.
Golf Digest's Ashley Mayo preferred to focus on the positivity on the horizon in the game of golf:
Hope TW sits out for rest of 2014 & gets healthy. In the meantime, let's focus on Rory, Sergio, Rickie, others who are playing amazing golf.— Ashley Mayo (@AshleyKMayo) August 3, 2014
To outline another aspect of Woods' greatness, though, Justin Ray of Golf Channel also noted that there is a certain burden of expectations for top-ranked players at majors that only Woods has been able to handle lately:
Rory to world no. 1: last OWGR no 1 not named Tiger Woods to win a major was Fred Couples at 1992 Masters.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 3, 2014
But do you think McIlroy is locked in? Check out this tweet before he conquered Firestone, where McIlroy already had his sights set on finishing the entire 2013-14 season strong:
Excited to compete this week in the WGC-Bridgestone & the approaching FedExCup Playoffs. Can't wait for Atlanta! pic.twitter.com/tKbIdoQ9WG— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) July 30, 2014
It would be appropriate if McIlroy could rattle off three straight wins, and cap it at that particular venue in Louisville, Kentucky. Often compared to Woods, McIlroy's biggest issue has been a lack of consistency. This could be the juncture at which his results begin to be come steadier.
Just as what happened following the British Open, there won't be all that much time for McIlroy to savor this win. All his efforts will shift to Valhalla, where the rest of the field ought to be fearing the stout superstar who appears to be on a transcendent level at the moment.
Round 3 Recap
Rory McIlroy was once again playing well in the third round Bridgestone Invitational with a two-under round in progress as the rains came, but he watched as Sergio Garcia pulled away from the pack.
Fresh off his triumph in the Open Championship, the popular golfer has backed it up with another strong showing. He put himself in position for an even better round, but wasn't able to knock in the mid-range putts that could have helped him keep pace with the leader.
Let's check out his scorecard from Saturday's action:
And here's a look at the leaderboard:
McIlroy completed the front nine without dropping a shot to go along with three birdies. Make no mistake, that was a very acceptable start and helped him remain firmly in contention, but it could have been much better if his putting was in top form.
He had four looks from inside 25 feet for birdie that didn't drop. While he tapped in for par each time, there must have been a little frustration that at least one or two of those didn't result in a birdie.
The Northern Irishman dropped his first shot since the sixth hole on Friday at No. 12. His tee shot on the par three found the bunker. He wasn't able to get up and down from there, dropping him back to two-under par for the round and -9 overall.
He then carded three straight holes and was playing the 16th when a storm blew through. The tournament noted the stoppage of play just before 1 p.m. local time:
Play is suspended due to bad weather in the area at 12:43 p.m. ET— WGC_Bridgestone (@WGC_Bridgestone) August 2, 2014
The delay had little impact on McIlroy, though, as he shot par on No. 16 before going on to finish in birdie-birdie style to enter the clubhouse three shots off the lead. Sunday's chase is one he looks forward to, as captured by the Press Association, via the Daily Mail:
"It's great to see all the guys continue their good play," McIlroy added. "Sergio was chasing me down at Liverpool, I'm going to try and chase him down this week and we'll see what happens. It's a great leaderboard with a lot of good names and hopefully it will be a good battle tomorrow."
McIlroy is playing well, but not quite good enough. He's either going to need to elevate his level of play or get some help from Garcia. Probably a combination of both those factors will have to play a role for him to raise the trophy.
Even if he doesn't end up capturing the title on Sunday, the tournament should be considered a success for him. Coming back to compete after the high of winning a major is often difficult. He's handled it well and put himself in position to make some noise.
Round 2 Recap
Rory McIlroy fired a six-under 64 on Friday to move into contention at the Bridgestone Invitational.
The round featured seven birdies and a single bogey as the Northern Irishman cleaned up the errors that turned what could after been a great first round into an average one. He looked far more like the golfer who won the Open Championship a few weeks ago.
Here's a look at his second-round scorecard:
It was exactly the type of round a golfer loves. He got an immediate role with three straight birdies to open the round and set the stage for moving day with two more to close it out. Aside from the minor blemish on six, it was exactly the type of effort he needed.
Going low on a Friday is also notable for the three-time major winner. He's gone through some serious struggles in second rounds throughout 2014, including a pair of 78s in the Memorial and Scottish Open.
Jason Sobel of Golf Channel passed along comments from McIlroy after the round and he talked about moving past those demons in recent weeks.
"It's not like I could put it down to anything that was happening on Fridays," he said. "But it's nice to put it to bed and shoot a couple of good second round scores. I'm in a great position going into the weekend, which I'm really happy about."
The terrific bounce-back round wasn't enough to move him into the lead, though. He was still four strokes off the pace set by Sergio Garcia. As Michael Collins of ESPN pointed out, the Spaniard made McIlroy's score look mundane:
That said, it was still good enough to get him back in the mix heading into the weekend. With favorable scoring conditions, continuing to limit those mistakes is crucial in order to make a run at his second consecutive title.
One thing's for sure: when McIlroy is clicking on all cylinders there are few golfers on the planet capable of matching him. He's still been a little inconsistent at this stage of his career, but he's in good form right now, which is worrisome for everybody else on the course.
Round 1 Recap
Rory McIlroy, making his first start since winning the Open Championship for his third career major title, posted a one-under round of 69 in the opening round of the 2014 Bridgestone Invitational.
The Northern Irishman and playing partner Matt Kuchar started on the back nine. He wasn't at his best for most of the round, but played steady-enough golf to remain close to the top. One poor hole late is what he'll probably spend most of the night thinking about, though.
Here's a look at his scorecard from Day 1 at Firestone Country Club:
The effort left him four strokes off the pace as he walked off the course. Let's check out the how the leaderboard looked as the afternoon wave of play heated up in Akron:
WorldGolfChampionships.com; Scores as of 2:35 p.m. ET
McIlroy arrived to Firestone knowing most of the focus would be on his major championship from a couple weeks ago. He held off rallies from Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler, among others, to win by two strokes at Royal Liverpool.
Bob Harig of ESPN.com provided comments from the 25-year-old sensation after a practice round. He didn't want to diminish the accomplishment, but also said his focus remains squarely on the busy schedule that lies ahead.
Where do you think McIlroy will finish this week?
"Again, I feel like I've done it," he said. "It's great to be introduced as he Open champion, but I need to move on from that and say I've got a lot more golf left this year, and I want to achieve a lot more. I'm enjoying being the Open champion, but that's not all I want to be this year. I want to do more."
He certainly seemed locked in early on.
McIlroy opened with three straight pars before playing a picture-perfect 13th hole. He ripped his drive nearly 320 yards, hit a laser approach shot within 10 feet and converted the mid-range putt for his first birdie of the tournament.
The No. 2-ranked golfer in the world proceeded to get back aboard the par train. Interestingly, he appeared content with what the course was giving him rather than playing a high-risk style with hope of creating his own breaks.
It comes after comments from Tiger Woods, which were passed along by Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports, about his aggressiveness.
"Well, as you can see, the way he plays is pretty aggressively. When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad," the 14-time major champion said. "It's one or the other. If you look at his results, he's kind of that way. Very similar to what Phil does. He has his hot weeks, and he has his weeks where he's off. And that's just the nature of how he plays the game—it's no right way or wrong way."
More specifically, Woods was seemingly talking about some of the wild swings in productivity from McIlroy. He had a 15-shot swing (63 to 78) during the first two rounds at the Memorial and a 14-shot drop-off (64 to 78) over the opening rounds of the Scottish Open.
The fan favorite appeared to have a more conservative game plan to open this week's event. He added a second birdie on No. 17 and parred No. 18 to make the turn at two-under par.
Golf Central noted he was trying to continue a trend of playing well following major triumphs:
McIlroy added another birdie at the second before suffering his first dropped shot of the day on the third to give the stroke right back. A lackluster approach shot left him a long two-putt for par and he couldn't sink the second putt, forcing him to tap in for bogey.
He followed it with four straight pars and looked ready to hit cruise control into the clubhouse when things got away from him at the eighth. An off-target tee shot and some very poor play around the greens resulted in a double bogey.
Luckily for him, he was able to get one of those shots back on the ninth to end the round on a high note with a birdie.
Looking ahead, McIlroy will certainly need to elevate his level of play over the next three days in order to contend for the title. No player has won the Bridgestone with a score worse than 12-under since 2008. Woods won last season's event at 15-under.
That said, the Open Championship winner can rest a little more comfortably knowing he posted a competitive score without playing his best. Moderate improvement and no major mistakes on Friday should at least get him close to the lead pack heading into the weekend.