What Rory McIlroy did on Sunday to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational had something of a preordained feel to it. When McIlroy teed off in the final pairing, he was down three strokes to Sergio Garcia.
Three holes and barely 30 minutes into their final round, McIlroy seized the lead with his third straight birdie after Garcia settled for bogey. This was the hole where Garcia popped a diamond off a woman’s engagement ring with an errant tee shot. Garcia played valiantly for the second straight tournament but was runner-up yet again to McIlroy.
McIlroy and Garcia would be tied once more after the ninth hole, but McIlroy took the lead back for good on the 11th with a birdie. His drives were too far and too accurate, and his approaches had him playing darts with the pin. Any time his ball hit the green, it was like it was hitting Velcro.
McIlroy is, without question, the player to beat in the world, and there isn’t even a debate. He reclaimed the No. 1 player in the world ranking thanks to Adam Scott’s three bogeys on the back nine.
McIlroy dismantled the field at Royal Liverpool, winning The Open Championship over Garcia and Rickie Fowler, and there wasn’t any doubt he was going to eclipse Garcia on Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational. He chipped and chipped and chipped until finally Garcia broke, and there was nothing Garcia could do about it.
While the World Golf Championship at Firestone is not technically a major, McIlroy faced a similarly strong field of talent. McIlroy shot 64 on Friday and 66 on Saturday to put him within three strokes of the lead come Sunday. Then came the crushing uppercut, as detailed by Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson:
“When you’re the guy trailing by a few you want to tie them as quickly as possible,” McIlroy said. “[Holes] 2 and 3 were big. All of a sudden I went from being three back and now I’m one ahead.”
Now, McIlroy has a chance to win three tournaments in a row—two of them majors—and there can’t be many people thinking he won’t accomplish it. When McIlroy is on, he’s reminiscent of the old version of the Tiger Woods software—the one programed to bomb down the middle of fairways and the one that left wedges into greens and sank most putts under 10 feet.
Yes, this McIlroy we’ve witnessed the past two tournaments—and both truly are major tournaments, one in name and the other in theme—is the invincible cyborg bent on the type of world domination we haven’t seen since Woods’ spinal column came undone.
But let’s not forget that this is still the McIlroy who saw his Thursday score swing by 14 strokes in the Scottish Open and 15 strokes in the Memorial by the end of play Friday. Freaky Fridays will always be a reality with McIlroy. There’s always a chance those wild rounds will sneak up and ruin his weekend.
He’s also the same golfer whose Friday cost him a shot at the Masters (a tournament he finished tied for eighth after a second-round 76) and the same golfer who was far from the worldbeater we’ve come to know in that last few weeks when he was T23 at the U.S. Open.
Funny how winning makes memories shorter.
McIlroy drove the ball exceptionally well at Firestone. His average length off the tee was 334.8 yards. From there, he hit 79.17 percent of his greens in regulation. McIlroy said afterward:
The way I approach it, the longer the club the harder it is to hit. If you’re hitting the hardest club to hit in the bag that well, then the rest should fall in line. I feel like that happened. Whenever I drive the ball well I put myself in a position to attack flags and make birdies. When I’m swinging it well with the driver that funnels well with the rest of my game.
Heading to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of this year’s PGA Championship, McIlroy couldn’t be more confident. It’s a course that fits his game, and his game right now is pure electricity.
Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com shared details on McIlroy's travel plans, and they leave little time for celebration:
“This is sort of my bread-and-butter, ball-in-the-air, target golf,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t seen Valhalla, but from what I’ve heard you have to hit it pretty long and drive it well.”
And when he enters horse country for the PGA Championship, where the start of every spring’s Triple Crown begins for the horses, McIlroy will attempt do what the horses try to do every spring: win three in a row. McIlroy’s the only one who can do that come Thursday, and to bet against him is, at this time, a waste of money.
All quotes from this article, unless otherwise specified, came from the post-WGC press conference streamed live on PGATour.com.