McIlroy returns for WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
British Open winner intent on using Hoylake victory as springboard to continued success
Rory McIlroy: “After my second Major at Kiawah I kicked on for another six months and played really well. I want be to be the guy who goes on and wins Majors regularly and wins tournaments.” Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
He’s back, and – as he seeks to become golf’s dominant player – at one of Tiger Woods’s favoured haunts to boot! Rory McIlroy, just over a week on from his victory in the British Open, returns to tournament action in this week’s €6.7 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron knowing a win would propel him back to number one in the world rankings.
Although McIlroy’s career CV now boasts three Major championships to underscore his status as golf’s poster boy, the 25-year-old has yet to win a WGC title. And winning at Akron has proven to be a particularly difficult assignment for all-comers, given the dominance of Woods at the venue where he has won eight times in 14 appearances.
Woods has dominated the WGCs since their inception: he has 18 career WGC titles, with Geoff Ogilvy – who has three – his nearest challenger on the all-time roll of honour. Woods, the defending champion at Akron, will be playing only his third event since returning from back surgery: he missed the cut at the National tournament at Congressional and finished tied-69th at Hoylake, where he broke par only once.
Two-fold objectiveMcIlroy returns to Akron with a two-fold objective: one, to win a maiden WGC; and, two, to continue the momentum from his British Open victory ahead of next week’s US PGA championship at Valhalla.
This will be McIlroy’s sixth appearance in the Bridgestone: he finished tied-68th on his debut in 2009 and followed up with three successive top-10s (tied-9th in 2010, tied-6th in 2011 and tied-5th in 2012) before finishing tied-27th last year.
McIlroy spent the days following his Claret Jug success at home in Belfast before doing a video shoot for one of his sponsors, Omega, at Gleneagles, and attended the GSK Human Performance Laboratory outside London for assessments before flying back to the US.
The Ulsterman is aiming to kick-on from his Hoylake success in the manner that followed his second career Major success – in the US PGA at Kiawah Island – in 2012.
Three timesOn that occasion, McIlroy won a further three times (twice on the PGA Tour, collecting the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championship titles in the following weeks and once on the European Tour, winning the season-ending DP World Championship).
Of his mindset, McIlroy – who is topping the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and both Ryder Cup points tables – said:
“I just want to think ahead and go forward and try to win as many tournaments and as many Majors as I can, because I feel like there’s a lot more left in me. After my second Major at Kiawah I kicked on for another six months and played really well. I want be to be the guy who goes on and wins Majors regularly and wins tournaments.”
McIlroy is one of two Irish players in the limited-field Bridgestone, along with Graeme McDowell who maintained his good recent form with a top-10 finish behind South Africa’s Tim Clark in the Canadian Open.
McDowell’s putter was pinpointed as the reason he failed to challenge over the weekend in Montreal. “I hit the ball well, put it in fairways, gave myself some looks . . . but the putter just didn’t comply,” said McDowell, who will be hoping to regain is putting touch on the Firestone greens as he bids to move into an automatic place on the Ryder Cup qualifying lists.
McIlroy and McDowell will of course move on to next week’s US PGA at Valhalla but Europe captain Paul McGinley – who had received an invitation from the PGA of America to tee up in the season’s closing Major – has been forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury.
A scan confirmed he is suffering from bursitis in his left shoulder.
“The scan showed that I really needed to rest my shoulder for a couple of months if I am to address the injury properly.
“I assessed the situation over the past couple of weeks and I think this is the sensible decision.”
He added: “It’s not just during the week of the tournament itself that is the problem, it is the fact that the injury also hampers my normal preparation for events and you do not want to be going into any tournament - far less a Major championship - not properly prepared.”