Garcia eclipses all contenders but McIlroy puts down a marker

Northern Ireland golfer gets birdies rolling in early and ends the round as he began

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the sixth green during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course on Friday.  Photograph:  y Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the sixth green during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course on Friday. Photograph: y Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 22:46

Sergio Garcia produced a stunning nine-under-par 61 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational over the South course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The Spaniard is on 11 under for the tournament, three shots clear of Justin Rose, while four back on seven under, following a brilliant 64, was Rory McIlroy.

Garcia had a birdie putt on the 18th to equal the course record – Tiger Woods has twice shot 61 – and few doubted he would fail with his 20ft opportunity based primarily on a stunning back nine.

He came home in just 27 shots with eight birdies in nine holes, including seven in succession. The only hole he didn’t break the regulation figure was the 11th.

He also managed 11 single putts in succession during his round. It was a magnificent homily to accuracy off the tee, exquisite ball-striking with his irons and wedges and a wonderful touch on the greens.

Garcia’s brilliance eclipsed all other contenders but McIlroy will be very pleased with his efforts. As a statement of intent and offering a portent of things to come his opening drive was eloquence personified, a 313-yard rip with the driver that scampered down the first fairway.

Following Thursday’s opening round of one under 69 the 25-year-old Northern Ireland golfer was keen to inject some early momentum into his quest for victory in a WGC-Bridgestone Invitational tournament that his Nike stable-mate and defending champion Tiger Woods has won eight times. He did just that with birdies at the first, second and third holes.

The person McIlroy was pursuing, at least initially, was Justin Rose as the Englishman continued to make measured progress with a largely stress-free second round to move to eight under over the difficult Firestone layout.

The 2013 US Open champion demonstrated a return to the calibre of golf that won him the Quick Loans National at Congressional Country Club and the Scottish Open.

Blemish-free round

Rose followed up his opening five-under 65 a blemish- free round, by signing for a 67 that contained four birdies and just a single dropped shot on the par four, 14th. Overnight leader Marc Leishman had an adventurous, one-under 69.

Woods, who in the past has reduced this tournament to a private benefit gig with his eight victories, could not hit a fairway and it required a host of single putts to rescue a one over 71, from the debris of some errant ball striking.

McIlroy has spoken recently about the confidence he has with his driver and he produced a wonderful display from the teeing ground.

Following the three birdies he had further chances on four and five but could not convert and it was from his first errant tee shot that he ran into a little trouble, compounding missing the fairway with a poor bunker shot from a greenside trap. He had to hole a nasty five-footer coming back just to make bogey.

It was his putter that rescued him at the seventh when he holed from 10ft for a par as his early progress threatened to dissipate almost as quickly as it materialised. McIlroy had played the front nine of Firestone’s South course – his back as he started on the 10th tee on Thursday – in one over, largely because of a double bogey on the eighth.

Yesterday it was an altogether more palatable experience, McIlroy maximising a fine approach shot by holing from 14ft for his fourth birdie of the round and to immediately recover the shot he had dropped on the last hole.

Miraculous par

He missed from six feet on 11 for birdie but did well to get up and down for par at the 12th. He moved to five under on the 14th with his fifth birdie of the round and produced a miraculous par after a horrendously pushed tee shot on the 15th, the rescue completed with a 20ft par putt.

He finished largely as he had begun, this time though a brace of birdies on the 17th and 18th holes both on foot of thunderous drives and controlled wedges.

McIlroy’s compatriot, Graeme McDowell, who started on the 10th hole, is one over par for the tournament, after shooting a level par 70.

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