Want to contend? Bring distance, channel it

Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia are two players riding power games to a successful 2014 PGA Tour season (shown here during last year's PGA Championship).

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AKRON, Ohio – Drive for show, putt for dough?

It’s been uttered since the days of hickory, but it might be a reach to say it is as true today as it was then. There’s just too much power, too much aggressiveness, too much assertiveness to think otherwise. True, a balky putter will still doom you, but the truth is, if you want to get birdie chances, you best step up to the tee brimming with confidence, and let it rip.

And here is a trio that does it best: Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.

Oh, crunch numbers, toss 'em out, and debate the issue. But from this seat, the view is that these three young men are the best drivers of the golf ball – consistently speaking – in the game today. Scan the scores through two rounds of the Bridgestone Invitational and you’ll notice that Garcia leads at 68-61 for 11 under, McIlroy is four back after 69-64 and Scott sits in a share of 12th on the strength of 69-68; you might think that a coincidence.

Wrong.

More like same ol’, same ol’, because to study these three is to come away impressed with their ability to continually give themselves a chance to score thanks to their ferocity off the tee. For the 2013-14 PGA Tour season they have each played in 11 tournaments; they have each finished top 10 seven times; and while McIlroy and Scott have each won, Garcia has finished second twice and third twice, and he did win in Qatar earlier this year.

In other words, they are glued to the top of the leaderboards and the reason is simple: They put themselves in position more consistently and more effectively than most of their colleagues.

“I drove the ball really well again today,” McIlroy said after finishing birdie, birdie to improve his demeanor.

You mean a guy who was 5 under through 34 holes needed cheering up? Sure he did, because he looked up and saw that Garcia had put a proverbial headlock around Firestone CC, shot 61, and pushed to double digits. “It was a great way to finish. I was six behind, but being only four behind makes a big difference.”

There’s only a slight difference to the look of the leaderboard this week as opposed to when all these heavyweights were last gathered, that being at Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship. Then, McIlroy was setting the pace and Garcia (up close) and Scott (further behind) were giving chase. This week, at least after two days, it’s McIlroy and Scott chasing Garcia.

“What Sergio did on the back nine is special,” McIlroy said, tipping his cap to the Spaniard’s seven straight birdies to shoot 27 and put an exclamation point on his course-tying 61. “I grew up idolizing him and it’s good to see him playing well. He’s very happy; he’s in a good place right now.”

Garcia, now 34 and clearly in great harmony with girlfriend Katharina Boehm, doesn’t deny McIlroy’s assessment. And it’s not just the 12 birdies against one bogey in two days here, or the tie for second at the Open Championship after giving McIlroy a spirited battle. “It’s the way the whole year is going,” he said.

Much earlier in the day, Scott had bogeyed his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, but it was yet another productive day. Though he’s eight back, everything in the way Scott has gone about his business this year, last year, and the year before that gives him hope that he can hoist himself into contention over the weekend.

But such confidence isn’t Scott’s alone. Similarly, McIlroy and Garcia are equipped with self-belief these days and it starts with the way they put their holes in motion. With power. With determination. With aggressiveness. With might.

“Definitely, it is an advantage to hit it longer on this course and give yourself shorter irons or wedges into some of these greens or hole positions,” McIlroy said.

In stark contrast to Tiger Woods, who continued his struggles off the tee (he hit just one of seven fairways on the back, only four of 14 for his round of 71) and looks tentative with the driver in his hand, McIlroy, Garcia and Scott were their usual selves. Meaning, they stepped on it.

Oh, they don’t center-cut it every time (McIlroy hit 10 fairways, Garcia 7, Scott 7), but oh, how they moved it. McIlroy averaged 321.6 yards, Scott 304.7 and Garcia 300.6, which reflects how they rank in driving distance this year (McIlroy third, Scott 20th, Garcia T-62nd). But if you factor in distance and accuracy (where Garcia shines), they are stalwarts. Scott ranks second in total driving, Garcia 14th and McIlroy 24th.

Now all of this is an old story for Garcia, arguably one of the world’s best ball-strikers for more than 10 years now, and also for Scott, who has elevated his game to a difference stratosphere since 2011. But McIlroy? He seemingly took a year off last year, spent most of the season looking for a driver and the rest trying to figure out how to hit it, but there should be little doubt that he solved the mystery.

Simply put, the 5-10, 160-pounder is back to hitting massive missles hole after hole after hole. He was left with just 101 yards in for a second shot into the 395-yard first, then he reached with a 219-yard second shot at the par-5, 517-yard second, and at the third he drove it 298 yards and hit a 145-yard laser to 8 feet.

Birdie, birdie, birdie.

True, it took a birdie-birdie finish to try and keep pace with Garcia, but McIlroy wasn’t about to let that detail spoil his fun. He’s again on top of his game, for reasons similar to why Scott and Garcia are there too.

They drive for show and dough.

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