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McIlroy's fire burns out as Thomas keeps his cool to claim victory

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy failed to find the magic touch in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last night.

The Holywood star's hopes of regaining the title he won in 2014 faded as American Justin Thomas held his nerve to claim victory on 15 under par, four shots clear of nearest challenger, compatriot Kyle Stanley.

It was a disappointing climax to the tournament at Firestone Country Club for McIlroy who must dust himself down and go again in the final major of the year, the PGA Championship, which begins on Thursday.

The four-time major winner carded a three-under 67 in his third round to move three shots behind Thomas but when he bogeyed the eighth and ninth holes to fall five shots off the pace the writing was on the wall.

By the 11th hole McIlroy was three over par for his round and six shots adrift of Thomas.

Another bogey on the par three 15th hole saw the Ulsterman drop to four over for his round, eight shots adrift of the composed pacesetter. But he got that shot back when he birdied the par five 16th and finished the tournament on eight under par, in tied sixth position.

Stanley closed to within two of the lead thanks to a birdie from 40 feet on the 12th, only to promptly hand the shot back with a bogey on the next.

Former world number one Jason Day then took up the challenge with a hat-trick of birdies from the 10th, but also bogeyed the 13th after a wayward drive.

When Thomas picked up just his second birdie of the day on the 13th, the 25-year-old suddenly enjoyed what looked like an unassailable five-shot lead.

Stanley closed the gap with a birdie on the 16th but Thomas safely parred the remaining holes to complete a closing 69 and seal a four-shot win, his eighth since October 2016.

Ian Poulter fared even worse than McIlroy in his final round as his four over par score left him a shot further back on seven under par.

Tiger Woods had earlier struggled to a closing 73 which contained six birdies, five bogeys and two double bogeys in the space of three holes on the back nine.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone Country Club but this event will move to Memphis from next season.

Defending champion Justin Thomas will play with Woods and McIlroy in the opening two rounds of the PGA Championship. McIlroy, tees off at 2.23pm BST with the Americans on Thursday, while England's Justin Rose goes out with Jordan Spieth at 7.37pm.

American Troy Merritt had emergency surgery on a foot-long blood clot in his arm on Friday - but still hopes to play in this week's PGA Championship.

The world number 173 said his arm swelled to twice its normal size and turned purple, when his wife told him to get it looked at.

Surgeons removed the clot which went from his left bicep, through his arm pit and into his left pectoral muscle. "I'm not in pain, but I can't move my arm very much," said the 32-year-old.

Merritt - who won the Barbasol Championship two weeks ago, his second PGA Tour title -is scheduled to tee off at 2.51pm.

He is not expected to play in the practice rounds at Bellerive in St Louis, Missouri. Meanwhile, David Higgins fired a five under par 66 to win the St. Annes Pro-Am sponsored by Workday.

The Waterville golfer finished one shot ahead of Shane Jenkinson (St Margaret's Golf & CC), Eamonn Brady (Clontarf GC), Michael McDermott (Grange GC) and Joe Dillon (Headfort GC).

The 45-year-old made an inauspicious start, dropping a shot at his opening hole of the day, the 10th but he responded in emphatic fashion bagging birdies at the 11th, 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th to reach the turn in four under 32. "Sometimes the best rounds start with bogey so I just had to keep telling myself that," said Higgins who topped the leaderboard in 2017 alongside Damien McGrane.

"I have been making silly mistakes for a couple of months, finishing second, third and fourth.

"I just knuckled down and was a bit more focused and I need to do that over the rest of the season."

• England's Georgia Hall admitted it felt "too good to be true" after producing a brilliant final round to win her first major title in the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham.

Hall, who had never previously tasted victory on the Ladies European Tour or LPGA Tour, carded six birdies in a closing 67 to finish on 17 under par, two shots ahead of Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum.

The 22-year-old from Bournemouth is just the fifth British winner of a major and only the third home winner of the event since it achieved that status in 2001, following in the footsteps of Karen Stupples (2004) and Catriona Matthew (2009).

And fittingly she did so with her father Wayne acting as her caddie, the former two-handicapper having named his daughter in honour of Nick Faldo's Masters triumph in Augusta, Georgia, in 1996.

Hall also fought back tears at the presentation ceremony as she dedicated the victory to her grandfather, saying: "There's someone very special at home that's going through a bad time so this is for you grandad."

"It's too good to be true really," Hall added. "I don't think it's all sunk in for me. It was my goal when I was nine years old on the putting green: 'This six-footer's for the British Open' and to actually have that - and luckily it was just a tap-in - I'm over the moon. I'm so happy.

"I promised myself not to get ahead of myself and feel any emotions, which is sometimes hard because I wanted to take it all in.

"I was staying very calm and patient and it was very close up to the last two holes and I was just trying to hole the putts.

"So many people were behind me and supporting me. It was so nice to play in England in front of a home crowd."

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