By Jay Betsill
Sunday at Firestone Country Club saw a plethora of storylines that are usually reserved for major championship weekends. It only makes sense with the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational having a stacked field that included the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings that the top players in the world would be peaking just in time for next week’s final major of the year, the PGA Championship.
In the end, it was 25-year old Rory McIlroy, who won for his second consecutive start following his victory at last month’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. McIlroy began the final round trailing Sergio Garcia by three shots, but erased that almost instantly with three straight birdies to begin the round to take the lead. He would never trail en route to a 66 that gave him the win and vaulted him past Adam Scott to a return to the top spot in the rankings.
“I’ve never driven the ball better,” said McIlroy. “Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies, but when I’m swinging it well with a driver, that sort of funnels through the rest of my game.”
While McIlroy was carving up Firestone, defending champion Tiger Woods on his way out of town, having withdrawn on the No. 9 tee box following a 315-yd drive due to back issues. The injury to Woods occurred on the second hole when he jumped into a bunker after hitting a shot at an awkward angle in the rough just above the bunker. There is no official word on what this latest setback means for Woods’ status for next week.
“It happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot, I fell back into the bunker,” Woods said. “I just jarred it, and it’s been spasming ever since.”
Phil Mickelson drew a lot of attention on Sunday with a final round 62 that included 10 birdies. In a season where he has not recorded a top-10 finish, his best round of the year moved him up to T15 this week and gave him confidence heading into the PGA Championship.
“Today it kind of came together,” said Mickelson, who birdied his first three and last three holes. “I started hitting the ball the right distance with my irons. I had much better control. I had the right spin, the right trajectory, and ended up making those putts and had 10 birdies today. This was a big day for me heading into next week.”
Garcia would shoot 71 to finish second (-13) followed by Marc Leishman at 12-under in third place.
Next week is the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, which is being held at Valhalla in Louisville, KY.
— 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy won the Barracuda Championship in Reno for his eighth PGA Tour title and first win since 2010. The PGA Tour event, which takes place opposite the WGC event due to its limited field, uses the modified Stableford scoring system where players receive 8 points for double eagle, 5 for eagle, 2 for birdie, 0 for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
“Obviously, it feels like it’s been a long time coming,” said Ogilvy, who won with a +49 score. “Feels like a long time ago, Maui in 2010. It’s been a bit rough the past few years. I was playing really well most of year this year. Just didn’t make any putts.”
— Kenny Perry closed with a 7-under 65 to win the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities. His birdie on No. 18 gave him a one shot win over Bernhard Langer. Perry is in the field next week at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky.
“This was a warm-up week for me to work on my short game,” Perry said. “From 100 yards and in this week I was better than I ever can remember in my career. I was hitting it around the pin and I was converting. I was making putts.”
— Dustin Johnson announced that he was stepping away from the game to tend to personal issues.
“I am taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately,” Johnson said, in a prepared statement. “I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced. By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion. I respectfully ask my fans, well-wishers and the media for privacy as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement.”
Golf.com reported that Johnson is serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour after testing positive for cocaine. The story also goes into detail about how Johnson, who is engaged to Paulina Gretzky, is well known on the tour for his partying ways that have included “a sexual indiscretion with at least one wife of a PGA Tour player.”
The PGA Tour released the following statement on Friday afternoon: “With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”