McIlroy wins WGC Bridgestone Invitational with rally past Garcia, retakes No. 1 world ranking

Date: August 3, 2014

by John Fanta

Rory McIlroy started Sunday by looking up at the leaderboard at Firestone South. But that changed, and it changed quickly. The Open champion birdied the first three holes of his final round, grabbing a one-shot lead from Sergio Garcia. That was all he needed in Akron. The 25-year old went bogey-free on the back nine, scoring one-under in his final 15 holes to take the 2014 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the world's No. 1 ranking.

"I just started really, really well," said McIlroy, who finished at 15-under, two strokes ahead of Garcia. "[I] put some pressure on Sergio [Garcia] early."

It all started for McIlroy on Saturday after a rain delay of just over three hours. The Northern Ireland native birdied 17 and 18 to reach 11-under. Just two weeks ago at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy sat at the top of the leaderboard with Garcia looking at him in second place when The Open Championship was all set and done. With an eight-footer for birdie on the third and a bogey by Garcia, McIlroy took a one-shot advantage at 14-under.

"To go from three behind standing on the first tee to one behind standing on the third tee was big," said McIlroy. "You're expecting the guy beside you to make a birdie as well [on two]. And then the third hole was another big turning point when I went from one behind to one ahead."

Once Garcia was not finding the rhythm he had to produce a nine-under 61 on Friday, it was all downhill from there. "I didn't feel comfortable on the greens at all," said Garcia. "They got quite slow throughout the last three days." Mother Nature delayed their tee time from 2:05 p.m. to 3:20 on Sunday after a rain delay of one hour and 15 minutes suspended play in the morning. Garcia found some momentum with a 14-footer for birdie on nine, his first on the hole of the week. On the 15th, the momentum sided even more with McIlroy, who held a one-shot lead at 15-under. Garcia's tee shot on the par-three hole that ranges just over 220 yards sailed to the right rough. "The thing that bothers me the most is the swing on 15," he said following the round. "I need to get my head straight there and make my mind and hit the shot, and whatever happens, happens. I can't be hitting the shot thinking one thing and then trying to do another thing." While he comes out short, Garcia has been a runner-up in his last two tournaments and climbed to the third spot in the World Golf Rankings. He has six top 10 finishes this season.

McIlroy, who became only the second European to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational (Darren Clarke, 2003), said he's never been more comfortable in closing out a golf tournament. "I felt like it was the first round or the second round," he said. "It didn't feel like a fourth round. Mentally, it's the best I've ever been. I didn't get ahead of myself. I didn't think about where I was in the tournament."

Averaging 317.3 yards per drive this week, McIlroy was not just pleased with the greens in Akron. "It [the course] sets up well for me. It's soft conditions, and I can just go after it." He was first in greens in regulation, reaching 57 of 72 (79.2%).

Even after another win, his eighth PGA Tour victory, McIlroy's not done looking at this season's potential. "I'm going to take the rest of the year off," he joked. Then, with a look of seriousness, "With the way I'm playing, there's a few left in me this year."

A look at this week's PGA Championship from Rory's Eyes

"I feel like the run of golf courses we've got coming up as well are going to suit me. "I haven't seen Valhalla, but from what I heard, you need to hit it pretty long and drive the ball well." McIlroy will tee off with Masters champ Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer at 1:45 p.m. on Thursday in Kentucky at Valhalla Golf Club.

More News and Notes from Akron

Tiger Woods has had many Sunday's to remember in Akron. The reigning champion of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational had one to forget this year. Woods, who came into the day at one-over par for the tournament, was out of contention. But, a chance to build momentum heading into this week's PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky was up for grabs. Instead, Woods' status remains uncertain for this week after he came up wincing in pain after his tee shot on the ninth hole. He withdrew from the tournament at four-over par, complaining of pain in the lower back. "It happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot," said the eight-time champion at Firestone. "I fell back into the bunker. I just jarred it (his back), and it's been spasming ever since." Woods, who returned from back surgery in June, missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National in June before taking 69th in The Open Championship.

If Woods misses the PGA Championship, his season is over. "I don't know," he said when asked on his status for Valhalla. "Just trying to get out of here." He needs to win the season's fourth major to qualify for any of the FedEx Cup playoff events. Coming into the week at 70th in the Ryder Cup standings, Woods also needed to start a move to if he wanted to make a good case for U.S. team captain Tom Watson. With Dustin Johnson withdrawing from competition, that already put Watson in a tough spot in losing an automatic qualifier. Woods' struggles don't make the situation any better.

According to Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel, Woods' agent Mark Steinberg said Woods "will be evaluated and decision on PGA will be made when ready." Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Rounds of the Day

While Woods didn't create momentum for the upcoming week at Valhalla, Phil Mickelson did the exact opposite. Lefty birdied his first three holes, and even with two bogeys, still scored the lowest round of the day with a 62. On 13, Mickelson holed out a 91-yard wedge shot from the fairway. It was his lowest round of the season. He takes that into the PGA looking for his first win of 2014. The round also came after Mickelson told the media, "I'm not making many birdies," on Saturday. Yep, the golf gods heard him.

Lee Westwood also had a strong Sunday with a bogey-free 63. He birdied the seventh, eighth, and ninth holes and it was smooth sailing from there. Westwood had missed three straight cuts coming into the week, and while he had not recorded a round under par until Sunday, the bogey-free 18 came at the right time for the European.

Stat of the Weekend

Courtesy of the PGA: The last player to win consecutive starts entering the PGA Championship was Tiger Woods in 2009 when he won the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before finishing runner-up to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship. McIlroy will try to become the 11th player since 1934 to win the week before winning a major. The last one to do it? Tiger Woods won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2007 and followed it up with a win at the PGA.

To reach this John Fanta, e-mail john.fanta@student.shu.edu or tweet @John_Fanta and @WSOUSports.

Fanta's report from Akron to wrap up the week: https://soundcloud.com/89-5-wsou-sports/rory-mcilroy-wins-wgc

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