AKRON — Winning the British Open wasn’t enough to make Rory McIlroy want to take the rest of the year off to celebrate. Neither was the first World Golf Championship he won Sunday at Firestone.
Another major awaits next week. McIlroy can’t wait to get there.
Two weeks after his wire-to-wire win at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy took his game from the links of Britain to the parkland of America and made the game look just as easy.
With another powerful performance, he wiped out a three-shot deficit to Sergio Garcia in three holes, closed with a 4-under 66 and returned to No. 1 in the world with a two-shot victory in the Bridgestone Invitational.
He looked just as good as the last time he reached No. 1 in the world during his torrid stretch at the end of 2012.
“This is better,” he said. “Mentally, I’m really sharp. I didn’t start to think about score. I didn’t think about where I was in the tournament. I was just playing shot after shot after shot. So yeah, it’s good.”
Garcia wasn’t at his best and closed with a 71. He’s not sure it would have mattered.
“Everybody saw it,” Garcia said. “He played very, very well. He drove the ball miles and very, very straight for the most part. He gave himself a lot of birdie looks.”
McIlroy finished the third round with two straight birdies, and not even one day and a rain delay slowed him. He punched an 8-iron out of the rough, under the trees and up the slope to an elevated green to 3 feet to open with a birdie. He drilled a 4-iron from 219 yards into 25 feet for a two-putt birdie at the second, and then followed with a gap wedge to 8 feet for a third straight birdie. Garcia made bogey from the rough, and just like that, he was trailing.
The Spaniard never caught up.
McIlroy became the 13th player with a major and a World Golf Championship, and he joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win them in consecutive starts.
Woods wasn’t around to see it.
Four months after back surgery, and in his third tournament since his return, Woods injured his lower back when he landed with a thud in the stand from an awkward stance atop a bunker on the second hole. He withdrew after a tee shot on the ninth hole, bending over slowly and struggling to remove the tee from the ground.
It was not clear he Woods could play in the PGA Championship next week.
McIlroy heads south to Valhalla with a full head of steam. After a brief celebration with the claret jug, he was determined to move forward and chase more titles over the final four months of the year. He backed it up with a powerful performance on a soggy Firestone course to take the top spot in the world from Adam Scott.
“That’s the most pleasing thing about this week is not dwelling about what happened at Hoylake,” he said. “That’s what I’ll have to do after this, as well. I’ve just got to keep moving forward. It’s great to have a chance to try to go there to win three in a row. But if you’d have asked me what I’m proudest of this week, it’s the mindset that I took into here of not being complacent. I wanted to come here and really contend.”
McIlroy finished at 15-under 265 and won $1.53 million, leaving him $765 short of Bubba Watson on the PGA Tour money list.
More important was the world ranking.
He lost the No. 1 position in March 2013 when his game was in a downward spiral as he was adjusting to a new equipment deal and going through another management change. But since winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, his game looks as strong as ever.
“Obviously, Rory is in incredible form at the moment,” Scott said. “He’ll be the man to beat next week by the look of things. And I’ll be gunning for him, for sure.”
Garcia was a runner-up to McIlroy for the second straight time.
The Spaniard had the daunting task of making up a seven-shot deficit at the British Open, and Garcia put up a great fight until finishing two shots behind at Hoylake. Staked to at three-shot lead at Firestone, it didn’t go much better.
Garcia missed a 6-foot birdie on the par-5 second hole with a putt that never looked as if it was going in. His lead down to one, Garcia pulled his tee shot into the gallery on the third hole, striking a woman on the hand and knocking the diamond out of her ring. The diamond was found, about the lone bright spot in his day. Garcia made bogey, and McIlroy rolled in another birdie putt to take the lead.
Garcia made only one birdie, on the ninth hole to share the lead. McIlroy answered with an 8-foot birdie on No. 11 and was on his way.
Marc Leishman (67) finished alone in third.
Patrick Reed holed out for eagle on No. 17 in his round of 65 and gave him a tie for fourth, enough to move him up to No. 7 in the Ryder Cup standings and boost his hopes of making his first team with only the PGA Championship left in the qualifying period.
Phil Mickelson made 10 birdies for a career-best 62 at Firestone.
None of that could top McIlroy, who put on another exhibition and looked every bit the part of the world’s best player.