Rory McIlroy can regain the world No 1 spot in Akron today providing he wins the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and top ranked Luke Donald finishes outside the top 12.
It’s a big ask. Not only is McIlroy six shots behind leader Jim Furyk on five under par, Donald is a shot inside the top 12 on four under at Firestone
No matter. After shooting a second successive, three under par 67 and with the US PGA coming up next week, McIlroy is a happy man again after playing what he considers to be his best golf since Quail Hollow in May, where he lost in a play-off to Rickie Fowler. Slump? What slump?
“It’s getting there, it definitely is,” McIlroy said. “I’ve worked hard to get it back. The last few weeks have been tough just playing so great, and obviously my expectations every time I tee it up are pretty high, and not to live up to my own expectations is not nice, but I feel like I’m definitely moving in the right direction.”
Out in 32 and home in 35 with four birdies and a lone bogey on his card, McIlroy is hitting more greens than anyone, though he has missed more than his share of fairways and hit just five yesterday.
“I think I hit the ball well from tee to green, and I took a few of my chances early on,” McIlroy said. “Actually had a couple of big saves around 4, 5 and 6, and just finished it off well. I took my chance on 16 and had a good chance at 17 and didn’t make it but then holed a nice putt for par at the last.”
Firestone is firm and fiery and while Furyk sprinkled a birdie on the front nine and a bogey on the back over 16 pars for a 70, he’s got just a one shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen (68) on 11 under with US PGA champion Keegan Bradley (67), who is still chasing the top eight automatic Ryder Cup places this week and next, two behind.
McIlroy, who is tied for fourth with the steady Steve Stricker, goes out with the American and the improving Bo Van Pelt.
Tee times have been brought forward off the first and 10th because of fears of thunderstorms and heavy rain.
McIlroy doesn’t mind and believes he can go out and shoot a low score and put pressure on Furyk, who opened with a 63.
“If I can go ahead and shoot a good one tomorrow and post a good finish or if I go ahead and get off to a really fast start and get myself right in there with a chance, then there’s no better way to prepare for next week.”
Graeme McDowell goes out in the fourth last group with Jason Dufner and Simon Dyson, eight shots off the lead on three under following a 70.
The 33-year old was two under for the day with five to play but had a poor enough day with the putter and bogeyed the 14th, 15th and 16th before a birdie at the 17th left him where he started.
Michael Hoey shot his best round of the week, a level par 70 and is 72nd of the 75 men left in the field on 13 over.
The Belfast star was out in two under after four birdies and two bogeys but bogeyd the 14th, and then three putted the 16th for par and the 18th for another bogey.
“Happier with today’s performance, shame about the three putts on 16 & 18,” Hoey tweeted. “Lots of improvement though.”
Lee Westwood shot 80 to playing partner Rickie Fowler’s 81. He didn’t stop afterwards to comment but engaged in some of his trademark “banter” with the American afterwards.
When Fowler tweeted: “You would have beaten me 1up in match play,” Westwood replied: “I’d have offered a half after 9 and gone in for a cold one!”