Rory McIlroy won his second consecutive start and returned to world No. 1 Sunday with a two-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Here’s the skinny on the final round at Firestone Country Club:
The leaderboard: Rory McIlroy (-15); Sergio Garcia (-13); Marc Leishman (-12); Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Reed and Justin Rose at -9
What it means: After a trying 2013 season, McIlroy is back atop the world rankings after his third victory in his last seven starts. This was McIlroy’s eighth career PGA Tour title, and the 25-year-old matched Dustin Johnson for the most wins by a player age 30 or younger. The news wasn’t quite as cheery for Garcia, who had a chance to move to No. 2 in the world with a victory. Instead, he dropped to 0-for-5 (over the past decade) when holding at least a two-shot lead after 54 holes, and 3-for-12 overall.
Round of the day: After a wire-to-wire victory at the Open Championship, McIlroy had to work a little harder for his second win in a row. Trailing Garcia by three shots, McIlroy ripped off four birdies in his first five holes to take a one-shot lead. McIlroy and Garcia were all square at the turn, but McIlroy’s birdie on 11 gave him a one-shot lead that he wouldn’t relinquish. Garcia’s bogey on 15 gave McIlroy a two-shot cushion, and the Spaniard missed an 8-foot birdie on 17 that would have added a bit more drama to the proceedings. McIlroy shot 66.
Best of the rest: With a season-best, 8-under 62, Phil Mickelson vaulted 29 spots on the leaderboard, gave himself some much-needed momentum heading into next week’s PGA Championship and likely made U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson’s decision a bit easier. Though Lefty is still without a top 10 on Tour this season (finished T-15 here), his 10-birdie finale might be just the spark he needs to end this disappointing season on a high note.
Biggest disappointment: After hitting a few bizarre shots on the front nine, Tiger Woods withdrew on the ninth hole Sunday because of lower-back spasms, a shocking development in just his third start since March 31 back surgery. His early exit prompts even more questions about both his immediate future (PGA, FedEx Cup playoffs, Ryder Cup) and his long-term prospects, if his injury proves serious. He needed to win next week’s PGA just to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, so it appears highly likely that Woods’ season is over. Honorable mention goes to Adam Scott, whose reign at No. 1 ended when he made three bogeys in his last five holes to shoot 71 and finish T-8.
Shot of the day: On a tough driving hole that two years ago produced a shocking finish, McIlroy instead smashed a 328-yard blast down the right side on 18 to leave himself only a sand wedge into the green. He two-putted from 40 feet to win.
Quote of the day: “What I’m really proud of this week is just following up the Open with a performance like this. I said straight after that I didn’t want any letdown; I just wanted to keep going and keep performing until the end of the season. To perform like this, I’m pretty satisfied.” – McIlroy