Rory McIlroy tops golf rankings with WGC victory

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Rory McIlroy returned to top spot in the world rankings with a stunning victory at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, after he once again proved too good for Spain's Sergio Garcia. 

It was the Ulsterman's second consecutive win following his brilliant triumph at Hoylake a fortnight ago, and following yet another fearless display of driving, he secured his maiden WGC title at Akron to seal the world number one spot for the first time since March last year.

Garcia complacency

As good as McIlroy was though, Garcia will be left to rue a poor final-day effort. The Open runner-up had to settle for second place behind his close friend and fellow European again following his 71 - the highest round inside the top 25, matched surprisingly by Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, who both occupy spots in the top five of the rankings. 

Australia's Marc Leishman continued to impress as he finished third on his own, carding 67 on Sunday to make it four straight rounds below the par of 70 at Firestone.

Ryder Cup drive

Meanwhile England's Justin Rose shot 69 to earn a top-five spot alongside the possible American Ryder Cup duo of Keegan Bradley and Patrick Reed, whose chances of competing at Gleneagles have both been increased following Dustin Johnson's voluntary leave of absence and Tiger Woods' withdrawal yesterday. 

Graeme McDowell played himself further into contention with another top-10 finish, as did Lee Westwood. His superbly-timed closing 63 may not be reason to suddenly believe he is on top form, but with the pressure he was under to perform, it certainly showed to the watching Paul McGinley he is up for the fight.

Phil Mickelson's 62 would've been just as pleasant viewing for US captain Tom Watson. 

None were more impressive than McIlroy, who can once again be called officially the best golfer on the planet after he backed up his third Major win with his first victory in a World Golf Championship event.

Within just three holes of the final round in Ohio, Garcia's overnight, three-stroke advtanage had evaporated after blistering start from the 25-year-old.

Rickie Fowler said two weeks ago that if McIlroy's driving the ball well, he is practically unbeatable, so when Garcia was forced to watch his playing partner continuously pump the ball 40 yards beyond his own, he could have been forgiven for feeling slightly worried about the day ahead.

That feeling would have intensified on the third hole when - following two opening birdies - McIlroy found the left-hand rough, but undeterred, he punched a beautiful iron under the trees that famously align all of the Firestone fairways, and watched it nestle four feet from the hole. 

Garcia's par-par start meant the lead, with 16 holes to play, was just one - but his bogey coupled with McIlroy's third-straight birdie at the next saw Garcia trailing for the first time since the end of his first round.

McIlroy's magic

Although the Spaniard was lacklustre in both his approach play and putting, it was more McIlroy's magic caused the lead to change hands. At the fourth, the triple-Major winner stuck another iron close and it was beginning to look like he might run away with yet another big event. 

However, this time his putt didn't drop; at the next, though, it did. Huge drive, controlled iron shot, perfect putt, and it was four birdies in his opening five holes. The withdrawal of Woods had quickly been overshadowed by a man who was beginning to make a habit of causing people to momentarily forget the 14-time Major winner.

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At that point a 59 did not seem out of reach, but his early progress was halted at the par-four eighth when he failed to get up and down from the thick green-side rough. Garcia, sensing an opportunity to put the frighteners on McIlroy, made the most of his partner's mistake with a birdie at nine to turn in 35 and tie himself atop of the leaderboard. 

A problem that has plagued Garcia throughout his career is his inability to produce golf everyone knows he is capable of at key moments, and this is sadly going to be another chapter in that book. 

McIlroy birdied the 11th to regain the outright lead, but from then on, there was little in the way of drama as the 34-year-old Spaniard's putter that was so hot throughout Friday and on Saturday's front nine ran cold for the final stretch. 

A bogey at 15 gave McIlroy a two-shot lead with three to play, and although Garcia did not add any further blemishes to his card, failed birdie attempts and 17 and 18 meant his race was run.

His own way

However, there is no disgrace in finishing runner-up to the superstar from Northern Ireland. With Woods almost unable to walk following a reoccurrence of his back injury, the sense of era-shift was in the Ohio air. 

While there may never be a particular point in both players' careers that can be pinpointed as the power shift, moments like yesterday continue to add weight to the argument. 

There are of course achievements' of Woods that will more than likely never be matched in history, but McIlroy won't mind that - he'd rather do it his own way. 

And his own way seems just fine right now.

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Rory McIlroy
PGA Tour
Ryder Cup
Tiger Woods

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