Rory McIlroy hot on the heels of Garcia
McIlroy makes up ground but Spaniard will take a three-shot lead into final round of WGC Bridgestone Invitational
Sergio Garcia hits off the 11th tee during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
After he had finished, Rory McIlroy retained the same purposeful, confident stride that had followed each of his drives down the fairway here at Firestone Country Club. Only, this time, it was for a call of nature. An enforced one; for, after completing his third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his name was one of those chosen for mandatory drug testing.
So it was that McIlroy signed his card, fulfilled his media duties - two TV inteviews, one radio and a mixed zone Q and A with the written press - and headed off for what he had to do, his first test since the Honda Classic back in March.
Yet, in the just over four months since then, McIlroy has become increasingly dominant. And a third round 66 for 199, 11-under-par, left him as the prime pursuer of 54-hole leader Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard shot a 67 for 196, three ahead of McIlroy, with Marc Leishman five shots adrift of the leader.
For McIlroy, he is perfectly positioned to attack going into the final round. After a weather delay that lasted a little over three hours - during which time McIlroy ate, drank and watched video highlights of the tournament - he returned to the course for a par-birdie-birdie finish that changed the nature of the chase. He picked up two shots in those three holes; Garcia, in contrast, parred all three.
Once again, McIlroy’s most powerful tool in the bag was his driver. On every occasion that the big stick was used from the tee, McIlroy powered the ball over 300 yards. The weather delay actually came at a good time, after missing a short birdie putt on the 11th and suffering a bogey, his only one of the round, on the 12th.
McIlroy’s birdie-birdie finish, the closing one from 30 feet on the 18th green in front of only a handful of spectators after the crowds had left under health and safety orders when the weather delay had been called earlier, left him with the taste of more and whetted his appetite for the challenge of chasing down Garcia.
“My goal was to try and get in the final group, it’ll be nice to play alongside him (Garcia) and keep an eye on what’s going on . . . I’m really just looking forward to getting out there and having another chance to win a tournament so soon after what happened (in the British Open) at Hoylake,” said McIlroy, who has the opportunity to return to the world number one spot if he wins and Adam Scott finishes outside the top-five.
More importantly, though, is McIlroy’s chance to win a maiden WGC title and to have the chance to aim for a hat-trick of tournament wins in succession going into the US PGA at Valhalla.
“It would be nice to go to Valhalla looking for three in a row. I’m not getting ahead of myself. Sergio is still three ahead of me and I’ll need to play really, really good golf to try and catch him because he is playing so well. But it’s a great opportunity for me to try and win my first WGC, a good opportunity to try and get back that world number one position and, just to be in contention so soon after winning arguably the biggest tournament of my career, is very satisfying . . . . (to) just keep moving forward,” said McIlroy, who will play in the final pairing with Garcia.
Of the recently engaged Spaniard, who finished runner-up to McIlroy at Hoylake, McIlroy observed: “He’s in a good place in his life right now and I’m really happy to see that. That’s really coming out in the way he’s playing and his whole demeanour. Sergio playing well is a great thing for golf, and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Garcia, also chasing his first WGC title, followed up his fabulous 61 in the second round with a 67 that enabled him to keep a grip on the tournament but aware more than anybody that the course is playing more benign than in previous years.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about playing well (in the final round) and see who will come out on top,” said Garcia.