- By PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Rory McIlroy has never driven the ball better than he is right now and with every 300-plus yard missile down the middle of the fairway his confidence only continues to grow.
His coach Michael Bannon -- the only instructor McIlroy has had since he first picked up a club as a young boy in Northern Ireland -- said Sunday at Firestone that McIlroy’s performance with the big stick is reminiscent of how he hit it in his record-breaking victory at the 2011 U.S. Open. Only now he’s driving it even straighter.
“He moved the ball more then,” Bannon said. “It's a lot tighter. There’s less dispersion now.”
And more distance between McIlroy and everyone else.
In his two-stroke win over Sergio Garcia (again) at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, McIlroy moved to No. 1 in the world for the first time since early 2013. He also climbed to third in the FedExCup standings.
CALL OF THE DAY: Fred Albers of PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Rory McIlroy's par to clinch his first World Golf Championship.
McIlroy led the field in driving distance at more than 317 yards a pop and in the final round had, among others, drives of 349 yards, 345 yards, 331 yards and 330 yards. On the final hole, he uncoiled a 328-yarder that left him with yet another wedge in his hands.
Numbers like that make it a lot easier to lead the field in greens in regulation, which McIlroy did at Firestone too.
“If you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line,” said McIlroy, who carded a 66 on a soggy Sunday that included three straight birdies to start to turn a three-shot deficit into a one-stroke lead that he would never fully relinquish the rest of the afternoon. “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.”
Just a year ago and only a handful of months into an equipment overhaul, McIlroy struggled to hit the driver straight. It came to a head at The Open Championship at Muirfield, where he shot 79-75 to miss the cut.
But he eventually got it figured out and in his last few starts in particular has driven it exceptionally.
“The big thing for me is if you let it affect you mentally, it makes it more difficult,” McIlroy said. “If you can stay strong mentally when you’re going through the struggles you always seem to come out the other side OK. It’s when it affects you mentally you can start to lose confidence, then you’re losing confidence in your swing. It can spiral out of control, kind of like I did last summer.
“It's the most comfortable I've ever felt trying to close out a golf tournament out there today. I felt normal. I felt like it was the first round or the second round. It didn't feel like a fourth round.”
What a difference a year can make.
SUNDAY'S BEST SOCIAL MEDIA:
Awesome to win my first WGC today at one of my favorite venues... Firestone CC! Thanks everyone for all the support, another big week ahead!— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) August 4, 2014
Congrats to Geoff And @McIlroyRory today.. Impressive wins by both.. Ready for Valhalla.. As close to home as I will ever get for a major..— Brandt Snedeker (@BrandtSnedeker) August 4, 2014
SERGIO COMES UP SHORT AGAIN: Different week, same result for Sergio Garcia.
Two weeks after trying to chase down Rory McIlroy at The Open Championship, Sergio Garcia went from hunter to hunted. He came up empty again.
Garcia lost his three-stroke lead in less than an hour and when on to shoot a 1-over 71 that included two bogeys and just one birdie. He’s now 3-for-12 in his career on the PGA TOUR when leading after 54 holes.
It was an old problem that reared its ugly head for the Spaniard, who missed five putts from inside 10 feet and took 30 in all.
“I didn't feel comfortable on the greens at all,” Garcia said. “With the spin of the greens changing quite dramatically after the rain, they got a little bit -- they were quite slow from the last three days.
“I started kind of second-guessing myself every single putt, and because of that, I didn't -- the good putt I hit, I misread, and the bad ones, obviously, weren't going the right direction either.”
Sergio Garcia’s tee shot hits fan’s diamond ring at Bridgestone
SCOTT LOSES TOP SPOT: Adam Scott needed to finish fifth or better at Firestone to keep his spot atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
For much of the day it looked like he might, until he bogeyed three of his final five holes to shoot 71 and drop into a tie for eighth.
“It's all good,” said Scott, who had spent the last 11 weeks at No. 1 before being replaced by McIlroy. “It's been a lot of fun. Obviously, Rory's in incredible form at the moment. He'll be the man to beat next week, by the looks of things, and I'll be gunning for him for sure.”
Scott didn’t seem too broken up by dropping to second. As McIlroy played behind him on the 18th, Scott stood on the green and playfully held up a No. 1 gesture to McIlroy with his index finger.
“I was pretty scratchy every round this week,” Scott said. “So I was scrambling a bit, and that was good. But just lost my rhythm a little bit on a couple of holes on the back nine. Couldn't scramble hard enough.”
The Aussie will have a chance to return to No. 1 depending how he and McIlroy play at next week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla.
For McIlroy, it is the third time he has reached No. 1 with a win. He first did it with a victory at The Honda Classic 2012 and again later that year with a record-setting eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship at Kiawah.
PHIL SHOOTS SEASON-BEST SCORE: A day after saying he was hitting his short irons pathetic and that playing well would be coming out of nowhere, Phil Mickelson shot his lowest score of the season, a 62 that included 10 birdies.
“Today it kind of came together,” Mickelson said. “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.”
He missed just one putt inside 10 feet and made a couple beyond that range. Mickelson ended the day with just 21 putts, easily his fewest of the week.
Though Mickelson still doesn’t have a top 10 this season -- he finished in a tie for 15th at Firestone -- Sunday’s performance is certainly a confidence boost heading into the year’s final major at Valhalla, a venue at which he has played well before.
“This was a big day for me heading into next week because I feel like I'm not trying to search and find it on Thursday,” Mickelson said. “I feel like my game is right there. I feel like I found what I'm looking for. I just have to keep it going and build on today's round and put together four good, solid rounds.
“I don't know what will happen next week, but if I play well, I'll look back to today's round as being the key point.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click below to see our favorite images from Sunday at Firestone CC
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“I just jarred it, and it's been spasming ever since. It's just the whole lower back.” -- Tiger Woods after injuring his back on a swing from an awkward stance in the rough and jumping back into a bunker on the second hole. He withdrew after eight holes.
“I've never had back problems, so I'm guessing it's pretty painful. Again, he hit some shots that we're not used to seeing Tiger hit, even when he's coming back from an injury like this. We don't see shots like that.” -- Bubba Watson, on playing partner Tiger Woods.
“No, this is better. This is better. I'm more in control of my ball and my ball flight. Mentally, I'm really sharp.” -- Rory McIlroy when asked if how he’s playing now compares to how he played at the end of 2012 when he won five times around the world.
ODDS AND ENDS
McIlroy’s victory at Firestone was his first WGC title. He is also just the second European player to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Darren Clarke in 2003 was the other. …
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 Hazeltine. McIlroy will try to become the 11th player since 1934 to win a major after winning the week before. …
Tiger Woods wasn’t the only player to withdraw on Sunday. Graham DeLaet pulled out before his round with the flu. …
Category Leader(s) Statistic Driving accuracy Henrik Stenson 14 of 14 fairways (100 percent) Greens in regulation Angel Cabrera 17 of 18 greens (94.44 percent) Fewest putts Phil Mickelson 21 putts Scrambling Cabrera, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood 100 percent Total birdies Mickelson 10 birdies Bogey-free rounds Lee Westwood (63), Matt Kuchar (65), Patrick Reed (65), Francesco Molinari (69) Low Round Mickelson 62 Hole stats Hardest hole Par-4 Fourth 4.250 strokes Easiest hole Par-5 Second 4.431 strokes