|Rory McIlroy after his victory, in Akron, on Sunday
Akron: Rory McIlroy continued his dominating form when he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by two strokes on Sunday and regained the world No. 1 ranking, replacing Australia’s Adam Scott.
McIlroy made a sizzling start to the final round with three consecutive birdies to quickly erase a three-stroke deficit and surge past Sergio Garcia at Firestone Country Club.
The Northern Irishman carded a 66 to finish at 15-under-par 265, while Spaniard Garcia (71) was second on 13-under, with Australian Marc Leishman (67) another shot back in third place.
Defending champion Tiger Woods pulled out of the tournament after aggravating his troublesome back, raising more questions about the playing future of the 14-time Major champion.
McIlroy, 25, took the world No. 1 ranking for the fifth separate occasion, and the first since March of last year, displacing Scott, who had been on top for 11 weeks.
McIlroy, who won the British Open in his previous start two weeks ago, collected $1.53 million for his first victory in a World Golf Championships event. And he did not sound like he was ready to rest on his laurels as he heads to the PGA Championship at Valhalla, where he will seek a fourth Major title.
“Mentally, I’m really sharp,” he said. “It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt trying to close out a golf tournament out there today.
“It felt normal, like a first or second round. It didn't feel like the fourth round. I didn’t get ahead of myself. I just kept playing shot after shot after shot.
His current form is the best of his career, he said, even better than at this time two years ago, when he won the PGA Championship by eight strokes.
Not that he played flawlessly on Sunday, but he invariably extricated himself from trouble with an assured putting stroke that limited the damage to just one bogey.
“I had a couple of wobbles, rode my luck a little bit on the back nine, hit a couple of tree limbs and got lucky a couple of times,” he admitted.
Garcia finished second to McIlroy for the second event in a row, but this time had only himself to blame as his putting touch deserted him.
“I didn’t feel comfortable on the greens at all, with the speed of the greens changing quite dramatically after the (morning) rain,” he said.
“They were quite slow and I started second-guessing myself every single putt. The good putts I hit I misread and the bad ones weren’t going in the right direction either.”
Garcia’s errant drive at the third hole hit a female spectator’s wedding ring and dislodged the diamond.
He was long gone after hitting his next shot before a search party eventually located the missing jewel in the thick rough.
Even the early departure of Woods, who pulled out on the ninth hole after aggravating his surgically-repaired back, could not steal the limelight from McIlroy.
But the Northern Irishman acknowledged he had a long way to go to be spoken of in the same breath as Woods.
“I’m not comparing myself. He’s done this millions of times,” McIlroy said.
Twice Major winner Tony Jacklin hailed McIlroy’s “sensational” driving display in winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and believes the new world No. 1 can go on to dominate golf for as long as he wants.
Europe’s most successful Ryder Cup captain of all-time, however, questioned whether 14-times Major champion Tiger Woods will have the appetite to fight back from the latest in a series of injury setbacks.
McIlroy produced a dynamic performance off the tee, pounding out a sequence of long, booming straight drives to overpower playing partner Garcia.
“That was sensational,” Jacklin said on Monday. “I’ve never seen anybody drive the ball better than that, ever. Rory showed amazing control with the driver which made the rest of it pretty straightforward. It was a terrific show and it was almost like a victory parade after he started with those three birdies in the first three holes of the final round.”