Adam Scott may have been the man with the biggest grin at the end of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, but a smile wouldn’t have been too far away from Rory McIlroy’s face.
The Holywood ace posted his intent for next weekend’s USPGA Championship with a classy 67 — his fourth sub-70 round on the trot — to finish tied sixth for the tournament.
He was seven shots in arrears of the Aussie winner but while the likes of Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell all struggled, McIlroy’s return to full power in the country that could soon become his home augurs well for his trip to Augusta Athletic Club.
Scott had four shots to spare in the end over Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler after a nerveless 65 on the final day, ironically partnered by Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams.
But as for the Kiwi’s former employer, if his Firestone showing is any yardstick, Woods heads to Georgia with the odds now seemingly stacked heavily against him winning a 15th career Major.
Woods continued to struggle with the driver in recording a final-round level-par 70 for a one-over tally.
Woods managed to hit just 22 of 56 fairways and was in six bunkers over the four days, only getting up-and-down for par from one.
But Woods did give his fans something to roar about in sinking three birdies in succession from the 15th.
“I had it in spurts this week, hit it really well, and then I'd lose it and get it back,” said Woods.
“I will just keep plodding along. You have to understand, I'm fresh. I haven't played. So it's nice for me to get out there in this competitive atmosphere.”
Meanwhile, after splitting with long-time coach Bob Torrance, Padraig Harrington looks almost certain to begin working at the USPGA with the renowned Pete Cowen.
Harrington spent some 90 minutes on the Firestone practice range last Saturday afternoon with Cowen, after earlier sitting down with the Yorkshire-born coach during the course of the tournament.
The triple-Major winning Harrington has had only two coaches in his career — Howard Bennett and Torrance.
And while he captured last year's Asian Tour Iskander Johor Open, he has not had success on either the European Tour or PGA Tour in three years, when he captured the 2008 USPGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
Cowen has a stable of players including McDowell, Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn and Irish Open winners Richard Finch and Simon Dyson.
“I had one or two coaches come up to me this week asking what my situation was,” said Harrington. “But I did speak with Pete Cowen and I am going to continue down the road with him.
“I like what I heard but it's not like I am going to spend the next three days beating golf balls going into a Major.
“I asked Pete to have a look at my swing. He gave me his opinion and watched me hit a few shots, and certain stuff he said to me was different. But I realise also there
is a time and a place for everything, and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of a Major is not that time.
Harrington was speaking after a Firestone final round of a two-over par 72 for a six-over par tally.
He was in a share of 59th place and looking at his worst showing in 13 Bridgestone appearances since the inaugural event in 1999.
McDowell performed just as poorly, posting a final round 71 for a nine-over-par total ahead of the final Major of the season.
However McDowell was delighted with the work he had done with Cowen on Saturday.
“My golf swing felt more like it today, and that was thanks to the work I did with Pete, but I just couldn't score,” said McDowell.
“So I now have to ground it out the next couple of days and get ready for next weekend.
“It's been a confidence-booster and there's nothing wrong, and besides next week is the last Major of the year and it's a big one, on a very tough golf course.”
And Cowen headed south to Atlanta accompanying Clarke, and with the Open champion looking for a far improved showing than a share of 68th place at 12-over par.
“It was a tough start to the week for me but I played better today,” said Clarke.
The Ulsterman will tee-up at Atlanta Country Club on Thursday alongside fellow 2011 Major Champions Schwartzel and McIlroy, all Chubby Chandler players.