McIlroy takes positive vibes into US PGA as challenge fades
A tumultuous week ended on a positive note for Rory McIlroy despite missing out on the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio yesterday.
The uber-competitor in McIlroy believed he could go all the way, just as he did in 2014 when he last played this tournament, but given the circumstances, a competitive performance - tied for fifth place - was a good result.
McIlroy started round four on six under par, just three shots off the lead held jointly by Ryder Cup team-mate Thomas Pieters and Zach Johnson, and ended one better off after signing for 69.
But Japan's Hideki Matsuyama blistered the field with a 61 to win the tournament by five shots on 16 under.
For McIlroy, this was his first tournament in nine years without caddie JP Fitzgerald on the bag, and the Holywood man had to deal with the questions and the controversy surrounding his decision at his press conference on Wednesday.
He then teed off on Thursday with friend and former Irish amateur international Harry Diamond on the bag.
"It's been a good week, obviously wanting to play well this week but with one eye on next week (US PGA Championship). I thought I saw a lot of good stuff this week to take with me to Quail Hollow," he said.
McIlroy started on a positive note, dropping putts from 20 feet, 37 feet and 28 feet for birdies on holes two, four, and six respectively, moving him to nine under for the tournament.
He gave a shot back to the course on the ninth, where his wayward drive left him blocked out behind a tree, and he had to take his punishment and just chip back into the fairway.
McIlroy parred his way to the 14th, which he bogeyed when he was bunkered off the tee.
He was back to seven under par with four holes to play, while behind him, Matsuyama had surged into the lead on 13 under.
Charley Hoffman and Johnson were in hot pursuit of Matsuyama on 11 under at that stage, so McIlroy's hopes of victory were ebbing away.
They disappeared for good on the par-three 15th which he bogeyed after missing the green left, and failing to get up and down from the rough. Two pars, then a birdie on the last saw him home in 69 shots.
Open champion Jordan Spieth did not hit the heights, and a 68 yesterday had him on four under for the tournament.
Spieth goes to Quail Hollow for the US PGA Championship next week facing huge pressure as he bids to complete a career Grand Slam of Majors at the age of 24.
Among his challengers are World No 1 Dustin Johnson, who is optimistic about his chances after a closing 66, which rounded off his tournament at three under par. "I'm hitting the shots I want to hit and I'm really looking forward to next week," said Johnson.
Meanwhile Ireland's Seamus Power was action at the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada where the format was a modified stableford.
Power started with two bogeys, deducting him two points.
He had just one birdie, a four on the par-five 13th, which brought him back to level points for the day, but eagled the par-five 18th to finish on 31 points for the tournament.
Meanwhile, Leona Maguire's bid to retain the leading amateur accolade in the Ricoh British Women's Open championship ended in disappointment at Kingsbarns Links yesterday.
Maguire (22) began the day in pole position to win the prestigious Smyth Salver for the second successive year, but she was pipped to the post by England's Sophie Lamb. The Irish player shot 75 for three under, compared with Lamb's 69 for six under.
South Korea's In Kyung Kim won her first major championship on 18 under.
Europe will have four rookies when they attempt to regain the Solheim Cup after captain Annika Sorenstam named her wild cards for the biennial contest against the United States.
Sorenstam described her decision to select fellow Swede Anna Nordqvist as a "no-brainer" with the world No 12 being Europe's highest ranked player despite battling glandular fever.
Also selected were Germany's Caroline Masson selected for a third Solheim Cup appearance, plus rookies Madeline Sagstrom and Emily Pedersen.