Rory runs out of steam as Thomas triumphs at Firestone
Rory McIlroy's 421 yard drive at the 16th was the only highlight of his day

Rory McIlroy's 421 yard drive at the 16th was the only highlight of his day

Justin Thomas will defend his US PGA title on a high this week after he cruised to a four-shot victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

As Rory McIlroy faded alarmingly, carding a three-over 73 to finish seven strokes behind in a tie for sixth on eight under, Thomas (25) carded a 69 to capture his second win of the season and the ninth of his career with a controlled performance.

As his rivals fell away on a tough final day in the last edition of the tournament to be played at Firestone Country Club’s South Course, the talented Kentucky native will be full of confidence when he tees it up with McIlroy and Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of his  US PGA defence on Thursday.

“I am glad I finally played well around here, just before it leaves,” said an emotional Thomas, who won in front of his grandparents for the first time. “I got a little choked up when I looked over and saw grandpa and grandma over there.

He added: "Yeah, it feels nice. I've been knocking on the door this year between Mexico and the Match Play. I felt like I was very close and it was kind of one of the few things left that I felt I needed to knock off or felt that would have been nice to add to the resume, for sure.

"To win on a golf course like this, a championship golf course and always against a very tough field, it just felt great. I really, really played well all week.

"it was pretty special. I can't really put it into words, honestly. When I had my putt, I kind of marked it and I turned around and I just happened to see my parents, saw my grandma and grandpa and I just got a huge knot in my throat and I just had to put my head down.

"I never have gotten like that on the golf course before. You just don't know if they're ever going to see me win if I don't win here, so it was pretty cool to get it done."

Just three shots behind Thomas starting the day, McIlroy simply didn’t hit enough fairways — he found just three of 14 — or hole enough putts to be a factor and it remains to be seen how that affects his confidence heading to  Bellerive Country Club after he had played so well for the first three days.

He came from three behind to win by two in 2014 but there were to be no final round fireworks this time.

While he birdied the par-five second from nine feet to remain three behind, his title challenge came unglued when he bunkered his tee shot at the fourth and flew the green with his recovery to slip back to level for the day.

He then bogeyed the eighth, ninth and 10th to slip out of the picture definitively.

At the eighth, he again found sand with his approach to the green and failed to give himself a putt for par.

And after dropping another shot at the ninth, where he went well right in two, he found more rough off the tee at the 10th and could only advance his ball some 40 yards into more rough.

Even when he gave himself chances, he failed to take advantage, missing from nine feet at the 11th.

He dropped another shot at the 15th, bunkering his tee shot well left before watching his 17-footer for par lap the rim of the cup and stay above ground.

It was little wonder there was a touch of anger in McIlroy's drive at the 648-yard par-five 16th, which flew 420 yards, leaving him just a seven-iron to the green.

But while he got up and down for birdie, he hit another wild drive at the 17th and did well to make par from eight feet.

Thomas never felt under much pressure.

He said: "With a 3-shot lead, I obviously knew that I needed to play well, but you kind of have a little bit of wiggle room and you feel like you maybe play a little too conservative, but I was able to kind of dwell on past learning experiences and you always try to get it higher.

"My goal going into today, I was trying to get it into 18 under because I knew if I got to that, I didn't really think anybody could catch me.

"I played well enough to do that, I just didn't really make any putts today, but I just kept hitting green after green. And if I hit missed the fairway, I was putting it on the correct side of the rough so I was able to have an angle into the green.

"We just kind of plotted our day around and, once J-Day got within two on 13, that birdie there was huge to kind of separate it, and then he made a couple bogeys and we were able to coast coming in."

Stanley shot a 68 to finish second while Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and world number one Dustin Johnson shot six-under 64s to tie for third, five behind the winner on 10-under.

As for Tiger Woods, who was seeking his ninth win at the Akron venue, the 14-time major winner went out with a whimper, carding a second successive 73 to finish tied 31st on level par.

Shane Lowry went into the final round of the Barracuda Championship in Reno in fourth spot, just eight points behind leader Andrew Putnam and with a chance to clinch a win that could secure his PGA Tour card until the end of 2020.

But if Lowry was looking up, Paul Dunne headed to St Louis simply looking to hit more fairways after a trying week at an always demanding Firestone Country Club.

The Greystones star found just four fairways in a closing 74 to finish tied 66th in the 71-man field on eight-over and second last for driving accuracy though he did win $48,500 for his trouble.

Meanwhile, on the Challenge Tour, Oliver Wilson beat Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen with a par at the second extra hole to win the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson after they closed with 68s to tie on 13 under par after 72 holes,

At London Golf Club, Philip Golding fired a course record, nine-under 63 to win the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship by two shots from Swede Magnus P Atlevi on 18-under par.

Paul McGinley (73) tied for 19th on nine-under with Brendan McGovern (70) 44th on three-under, Des Smyth (73) tied 49th on level par and Ronan Rafferty (80) 64th on eight over.