Stat attack!: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational review


Is it coincidence that Rory McIlroy is playing the best golf of his season, perhaps even the best of his outstanding career, after he called off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki on May 21? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the results are noteworthy.

Prior to the break-up, McIlroy had his share of top finishes in 2014, including runner-ups at the Honda Classic and in Abu Dhabi. But his season was mostly marked by disappointment. He should have won at PGA National, stumbling down the stretch in the final round and losing a playoff to Russell Henley.

He received more notoriety for following stellar first rounds with poor Fridays, and at one point his second-round scoring average was among the five worst on the PGA Tour. Since the end of May, however, he has won three times, all top-tier tournaments, including the British Open in a wire-to-wire runaway.

On Sunday, he completed a workmanlike comeback win over Sergio Garcia at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Rory McIlroy since breaking off his engagement

 Tournament Tour Finish
 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Both Won
 British Open Both Won
 Scottish Open European T-14
 Irish Open European MC
 U.S. Open Both T-23
 Memorial PGA T-15
 BMW PGA  European Won

The win at the Bridgestone makes him the first player since Tiger Woods in 2009 to enter the PGA Championship having won his previous two starts, and moves McIlroy to No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking. It’s the fifth different time McIlroy has been the world’s best golfer. Only Woods and Greg Norman have been No. 1 on more different occasions, although Rory hasn’t spent the number of weeks on top as those two stars. McIlroy rotated at No.1 with Luke Donald three times in the spring of 2012 and finally stayed on top for his longest stretch – 32 weeks - after the PGA Championship.

McIlroy at No. 1 on the World Ranking

 First week at No. 1 Last week at No. 1 Total weeks
 August 4, 2014   1
 August 11, 2012  March 16, 2013 32
 May 5, 2012 May 19, 2012 3
 April 14, 2012 April 21, 2012 2
 March 3, 2012 March 10, 2012 2

Players who were No. 1 the most different times

 Player Times at No. 1 Total weeks
 Greg Norman 11 331
 Tiger Woods 10 683
 Seve Ballesteros 5 61
 Rory McIlroy 5 40

At Firestone, McIlroy led the field in driving distance and total driving and tied for the lead in greens in regulation. He was second in proximity to the hole, putting from less than 10 feet and birdies per round. He is the fifth winner this year to lead the field in greens in regulation and the sixth to also lead in distance.

PGA Tour winners in 2013-14 who also led the field in GIR

 Player Tournament
 Rory McIlroy WGC-Bridgestone
 Brian Harman John Deere Classic
 Angel Cabrera Greenbrier Classic
 Matt Kuchar RBC Heritage
 Dustin Johnson  WGC-HSBC Champions

PGA Tour winners in 2013-14 who also led the field in driving distance

 Player Tournament
 Rory McIlroy WGC-Bridgestone
 Rory McIlroy British Open
 J.B. Holmes Wells Fargo
 Bubba Watson Masters
 Bubba Watson Northern Trust Open
 Jimmy Walker Sony Open

McIlroy is second on Tour in scoring average at 69.057 and is looking to lead the tour in that stat for the second time in three years. In 2012 he averaged 68.87 and won the Byron Nelson and Vardon trophies indicative of the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour.

PGA Tour leaders in scoring average in 2013-14

 Player Scoring average
 Sergio Garcia 68.739
 Rory McIlroy 69.057
 Adam Scott 69.323
 Matt Kuchar 69.343
 Graeme McDowell 69.434
 Jim Furyk 69.460

Sergio Garcia is also playing with a purpose in 2014, having finished second to McIlroy for the second straight time. As at the British Open, Garcia finished two strokes back of Rory, this time losing the lead with a final-round 71. (He trailed McIlroy by seven strokes entering Sunday at Royal Birkdale.) The difference for McIlroy on Sunday was how he played the back nine. Garcia was an incredible eight-under on the back during Friday’s second round, but only made one birdie on the home holes Saturday (interestingly that came on No. 11, the only hole he failed to birdie Friday), and didn’t make any birdies there Sunday. The two players were tied at the turn Sunday, and McIlroy’s only birdie on the back in the final round, on No. 11, was enough to secure his victory.

In winning a major and a WGC event in back-to-back starts, McIlroy is the first player since 2008 to win both types of tournaments in the same year, and only the third different player to do it all time. One of those three has done it eight times since the WGC’s began in 1999.

Players to win a major and a WGC in the same year

 Year Player Major WGC
 2014 Rory McIlroy British Bridgestone
 2008 Tiger Woods U.S. Match Play
 2007 Tiger Woods PGA Cadillac, Bridgestone
 2006  Tiger Woods British, PGA Cadillac, Bridgestone
 2006 Geoff Ogilvy U.S. Match Play
 2005 Tiger Woods Masters, British Cadillac, Bridgestone
 2002 Tiger Woods Masters, U.S. Cadillac
 2001 Tiger Woods Masters Bridgestone
 2000 Tiger Woods U.S., British, PGA Bridgestone
 1999 Tiger Woods PGA Cadillac, Bridgestone

You’ll notice Geoff Ogilvy on that list and he deserves mention, having won the Barracuda Championship in Reno Sunday for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2010 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He joins David Toms as the only players to win Tour events via stroke play, match play and Stableford scoring. In addition to several stroke play victories, Ogilvy won the WGC-Match Play Championship in 2006 and now the Barracuda, played by modified Stableford rules. Toms won the International in 1999 and the WGC-Match Play in 2005. (Paul Casey, Ernie Els and Greg Norman have also won events of all three scoring types if you include their wins at the European Tour’s World Match Play Championship, and in Casey’s case the 2003 ANZ Championship, which was a Stableford event.)