AKRON, Ohio – Tiger Woods being KOd early. Rory McIlroy decking Sergio Garcia late. Pretty much covers everything that happened at Firestone Country Club in Sunday’s final round of the Bridgestone Invitational, eh?
Ah, not quite, because on the eve of the season’s finale major – oh, for the days of Glory’s Last Shot – and with players still jockeying for coveted Ryder Cup spots, there was much going on. So beyond Woods’ back injury and the heavyweight joust that saw McIlroy come from behind to take the lead from Garcia on the front nine then reclaim it for good after the turn, here are 5 Things to know:
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1. NOW THAT, WAS MORE LIKE IT: It wasn’t that he shot the lowest score of the day or his best in 84 trips around Firestone CC (a sizzling 8-under 62). It wasn’t that he hurdled a flock of players and moved into a share of 15th.
No, the bigger picture was that Phil Mickelson for the first time in a long time felt like he put all aspects of his brilliant game together.
“This was a big day for me, heading into next week because I feel like I’m not (headed to Valhalla), trying to search and find it on Thursday.”
Over the first three days here, Mickelson had said he felt close at the Scottish Open and close at the Open Championship, only to discover in rounds of 71-73-69 at Firestone that he wasn’t where he thought he was. “I don’t know what to say,” Mickelson said, when asked about Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “I don’t know what happened. It was just terrible.”
“I’ve just been kind of waiting for it to click, just waiting for things to come together without trying to force it.”
In 15 Bridgestone Invitationals and six World Series of Golfs at Firestone, Mickelson had never been better than 65. But even though he hit just eight fairways and 11 greens, he bettered that by three – and improved his mood immeasurably.
Now he still hasn’t finished top 10 in a PGA Tour event this season, but such a piece of news seems trivial and hardly a deterrent to his positive mood headed into the PGA Championship.
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2. AND HOW ‘BOUT THIS SURPRISE: The smiles and warmth you felt when Mickelson arrived in the scorer’s area were only multiplied when Lee Westwood came in with the very next group.
Shooting 63 did wonders for his spirits, too.
“Good to go into next week with confidence, having shot a low score. I’ve been feeling it on the range and for periods on the golf course that it’s coming together, making steps forward,” Westwood said. “Then you make stupid bogeys and fail to gain momentum, but today, I decided to really break the course down and focus on the first holes.”
Though he birdied only one of the first six holes, Westwood ripped off four straight birdies starting at the seventh, played bogey-free, and while T-19 might sound like much, it’s worlds apart from his recent stretch of play – missed cuts at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the U.S. Open, the Scottish Open, and the Open Championship.
Along the way, his Ryder Cup fortunes have seemingly talent a serious jolt. Is he worried?
“I can play under pressure. I know how to play under pressure. Sometimes I play better when there’s a definitive goal there.”
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3. HEY, WAIT UP: When Graham DeLaet withdrew with a bad back before Round 3, Russell Henley went off as a single. Then, when Woods withdrew with back woes at the ninth, it left Watson as a single.
So when the big lefthander got to the 10th tee he whistled, waved, and yelled to let Henley know he was joining in. But first he conferred with rules officials.
“I said, ‘Can we join up?’ “ Watson said. “It’s weird, but there’s a onesome in front of me. Can I join up with that onesome?”
Clearly, it didn’t toss off Henley’s rhythm, because after shooting 1-over 36 as a single on the front, he went for 32 on the back. Watson turned in 3-under, but shot 1-over on the back.
The challenge came in the scorer’s trailer. Henley’s scored was attested to by Watson – for the back nine, anyway – while Watson’s score had to be fixed on two different holes on the front, even though the guy who wrote it down wrong, Woods, was not on site.
“Been a weird week,” Watson said, and when he came into the scoring area he told onlookers that “I was just a marker today.”
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4. REED ALL ABOUT IT: His week began with the unexpected news that he had gone from 10th to ninth in the Ryder Cup standings, because of Dustin Johnson’s voluntary hiatus from the PGA Tour. That’s inside automatic-pick territory, but Patrick Reed didn’t rely on fate to move even higher once the tournament began.
Instead, he played brilliantly, then closed with a flourish so that when the morning arrives Reed will officially discover that he is now seventh in the standings.
Having started Round 4 in a share of 10th, Reed roared with three birdies in 10 holes, then holed a 104-yard bunker shot to eagle the 402-yard 17th.
The closing 65 to get to 9-under 271 pushed Reed into a share of fourth, giving him enough Ryder Cup points to move past Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
Sitting seventh, Reed is in solid position to make his first Ryder Cup team, while Dufner (eighth) and Johnson (ninth) are bubble boys.
The top nine will be automatic picks, but looming at No. 10 is Phil Mickelson. His move into the top nine would be embraced by captain Tom Watson, who would prefer to not have to use a captain’s pick on the veteran lefthander.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: In six previous trips to Firestone CC, Graeme McDowell had finished no better than joint 22nd, with three trips resulting in spots outside the top 30. So when he closed with a second straight 66 to finish at 7-under 273, the man from Northern Ireland had a share of ninth, the first time he could leave here with a smile on his face. … Rickie Fowler closed with a 67 to finish T-9, his fourth consecutive finish inside the top 15. He was T-13 at the FedEx St. Jude, then T-2 at the U.S. Open and T-2 at the Open. … Kevin Streelman made just one birdie during his 36 weekend holes, finishing 71st. … Steve Stricker struggled to a share of 63rd after having been no worse than 13th in each of the last editions of this WGC.