Heading into the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Sergio Garcia led Rory McIlroy by three strokes. Advantage: McIlroy.
We kid Sergio because, well, everyone does it and, truthfully, it is kind of easy. And, also truthfully, this may be his best season ever. Unfortunately for him, McIlroy is just better and, right now, the best in the game.
McIlroy caught and passed Garcia on the third hole on Sunday and, even though the Spaniard briefly pulled even at the turn, there was little doubt that the Northern Irishman would add his first World Golf Championship title two weeks after winning his third major.
That's really more of a testament to McIlroy than a knock on Garcia, who fired a stunning 61 on Friday, coming in with a jaw-dropping 27 on the back nine. Twenty-seven! The PGA Tour record, of course, is 59, accomplished six times, but are those really any better than a 61 in a WGC event?
While McIlroy birdied the first three holes on Sunday, Garcia parred the first two, then bogeyed the third, sending his drive into the gallery, hitting a woman on the hand and displacing the diamond from her ring. (Warning, pun alert: Diamond in the rough. ... Garcia leaves no stone unturned. ... Gem of a shot. ... Gotta hand it to you, Sergio. ... All right, enough already!)
The two golfers, paired in the final group, parred almost every hole thereafter, netting little fluctuation. McIlroy topped Garcia by two to overtake Adam Scott atop the world rankings and is an overwhelming favorite next week at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
McIlroy returned to the top spot for the first time since early last year, when swing, equipment and management changes conspired to derail his game. He's only the second golfer to win a major and WGC in consecutive starts, joining Tiger Woods.
As for Garcia, he is now third in the latest OWGR, his highest standing since ending 2008 as No. 2. The Spaniard is on a remarkable roll, with runner-up finishes in his last three starts -- at the Travelers and the Open Championship before Bridgestone. The last two close calls came at the hands of you-know-who, sort of like Garcia being Andre Agassi to McIlroy's Pete Sampras.
And even though Garcia said last week that Valhalla isn't exactly his favorite course, would it surprise anyone to see him battling McIlroy on Sunday for the Wanamaker Trophy?
It's not as if Scott frittered away the No. 1 ranking with poor play. A T8 at Firestone gave him a fifth consecutive top 10, a stretch that began with victory at Colonial. It's just that winning a major and a WGC count more than a Crowne Plaza. Could the Aussie, who tied for fifth at the Open Championship, win the PGA? Sure, but he he'll have to get in line behind McIlroy, Garcia and maybe Justin Rose among the favorites.
Rose fell from fourth to fifth in the OWGR, but only because he was passed by Garcia. The Englishman is having a fantastic summer himself. He added a T4 at Firestone to wins in Washington and Scotland, plus top 15s in all three majors. Despite the recent win at the Scottish Open, Rose's game somehow seems better suited for American golf courses, what with his wins in a major (U.S. Open), a WGC (Cadillac) and a FedEx Cup playoff event (BMW) coming on U.S. soil. Which is why he should be in the mix come Sunday at Valhalla.
Mickelson shot a 62 – with two bogeys! How Phil! – in the final round to stir hopes for next week, but c'mon, he still doesn't have a top-10 all year. Mickelson's best round of the year catapulted him into a tie for 15th (and perhaps onto Tom Watson's Ryder Cup radar), and we all are looking forward to seeing him in the PGA, not so much because he can contend but because he's grouped with Woods in the first two rounds.
What is there to say at this point, other than we don't know whether Woods will play in the PGA or the severity of the back injury that forced his withdrawal on Sunday after a lackluster first three days. Tiger now has as many WDs (2) and MCs (1) as cashes (3) in 2014. He's played only two complete rounds on Sunday all year. No, he's got no shot at the PGA if he somehow tees it up. Woods' body seems as brittle as a Jim Furyk lead on Sunday. And that's pretty dang brittle.
A month and a half ago, the German was the hottest guy going, winning The Players Championship and the U.S. Open. Since then, 70th at the Open Championship and T56 at Bridgestone. Kaymer looked so poised, so consistent and, most importantly, so mentally tough. But the last two outings show how quickly one's game can get derailed. Still, the 2010 winner of the Wanamaker Trophy can't be counted out next week.
The forgotten man among the world's top 5 comes off a T19 heading into the year's final major. Only 92nd in the point standings, Stenson has performed well in the majors, with a top-15 at the Masters and a top-5 at the U.S. Open. But it's been a largely quiet followup to the sensational 2013, and the Swede isn't on many short lists to contend next week.
With 16 top-25s in 22 starts this season, Spieth has produced a terrific second act to his breakthrough rookie season. He performed well in the first two majors, but fell to T36 at Royal Liverpool and now 49th at Firestone. Can he contend next week? Sure, but the feeling is he won't.
The defending PGA champion revealed last week before his T66 at the Bridgestone that a neck injury has been hampering him. That may explain only one top-10 since March, that in a playoff loss to Scott at Colonial. Dufner does not seem primed to be among the contenders at Valhalla.
There's been a Geoff Ogilvy sighting! On the verge of losing his card, the Aussie won the modified stableford Barracuda something-or-other in Vegas on Sunday, his first victory in 4.5 years, one that gets him into the PGA and the FedEx Cup playoffs and secures his card for next season. The win stemmed a six-year slide down the rankings for the former top-10 golfer, moving him 90 spots in the other direction, from No. 216 to 126th.
The runner-up to Ogilvy is on a roll, having also finished third last week at the Canadian Open. Hicks has now climbed to 43rd in the point standings, likely meaning he'll stick around for at least three of the four playoff events. But keep in mind, these top-3 showings have come against watered-down fields.