Rory McIlroy recovers with late flourish
After the surprise of seeing his second shot fly the green and into a bunker, Rory McIlroy took stock to get up-and-down for a par that proved to be the catalyst for his lowest-ever round in the WGC — Bridgestone Invitational.
McIlroy then birdied three holes in succession at the start of his inward nine to record a two-under-par 68 and his best score by two strokes in five rounds on the Firestone Country Club course.
It left the 21-year-old Northern Ireland golfer placed among the top-10 mid-afternoon and just four strokes behind American Bubba Watson.
The 31-year-old Florida-born southpaw, who won his first U.S. Tour event last June, was two strokes clear of compatriots Phil Mickelson and Kenny Penny
Competing in the elite World Golf Championships event for the first time, Watson birdied five of the last eight holes on a hot, humid afternoon to card a spectacular six-under-par 64.
For McIlroy, after an overcast and wet early morning, the sun could not have broken through more on cue as he rolled in a first-hole birdie putt.
But after such a bright start, the clouds descended on McIlroy's game with the Irish golfer dropping two shots over his next three holes.
McIlroy and Mickelson found themselves on opposite sides of the fairway at the 11th, with McIlroy finding the right round and the American's drive in left rough.
However McIlroy played an indifferent punch shot under the trees, saying ‘Oh Rory, No!' to himself as he watched the ball fail to clear the rough, from where he chipped and two-putted for bogey.
McIlroy was again in the rough down the right side of the par four, 13th but this time he executed the shot under trees he had been looking for for two holes.
But after then chipping to just under six feet, the Irishman missed his par putt to be now one over par.
Then at the par four, 16th or the seventh hole of his round McIlroy stood his ground for some minutes, looking at caddy J. P. Fitzgerald and wondering how a 107-yard wedge shot had flown the green by 60-feet and into a bunker.
After managing to save par, McIlroy then regrouped superbly to birdie three holes in succession from the start of his inward nine.
McIlroy put a 111-yard wedge shot to six feet for birdie at the first or his 10th hole and then after
missing the green some 30 yards left at the second, he punched a wedge shot under branches to just three feet for a second birdie.
The current World No. 8 followed that by draining a monster 54-foot birdie putt at the par four, third hole despite earlier finding rough with his drive.
McIlroy then parred his closing six holes to comfortably complete his first Firestone round in the 60s and a best by two strokes in five rounds on the Ohio course.
“When I got up-and-down from that bunker at 16 that sort of gave me a little bit of a boost to go on,” he said.
“I then hit good shots into 17 and 18, and then got a nice run of birdies at the first, second and third, and from there on I played solid golf.”
The all-Irish pairing of Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell both had a share of 16th on one-under-par near the turn while seven-times Firestone champion Tiger Woods was struggling at three-over par through nine holes.