Golf was in the news for a variety of reasons this weekend, not all of them positive. Let's start with the good news.
Rory Fills the Void
Tiger Woods' ongoing struggles with his health and his golf game have left a vacuum at the game's apex. Fortunately, Rory McIlroy has proved more than ready to slide seamlessly into the role of golf's standard-bearer. McIlroy followed up his dominant British Open win with another high-profile, big-money triumph at the WGC-Bridgestone, a win that allows him to retake the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy quickly erased a three-shot deficit to Sergio Garcia, shooting a final-round 66 to Sergio's 71 for a three-shot win at Firestone Country Club. McIlroy is overpowering golf courses with his length off the tee; this weekend, he produced drives of 349 yards, 345 yards, 331 yards and 330 yards.
"If you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line,” said McIlroy. “Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies, but when I'm swinging it well with a driver that sort of funnels through the rest of my game."
Garcia is now 3-for-12 in converting 54-hole leads. “I didn't feel comfortable on the greens at all,” said Garcia, who missed five putts inside 10 feet. “With the spin of the greens changing quite dramatically after the rain, they got a little bit -- they were quite slow from the last three days. I started kind of second-guessing myself every single putt, and because of that, I didn't -- the good putt I hit, I misread, and the bad ones, obviously, weren't going the right direction either.”
Still, the McIlroy-Garcia duo has produced consecutive 1-2 finishes in big-time events. At 34, Sergio's still young enough to provide a compelling foil for McIlroy for the next decade.
And not in a good way. After hitting an awkward shot and apparently tweaking his ailing, surgically repaired back, Woods limped through nine holes before walking off the course and into the headlines with his latest physical setback. Tiger had sounded the alarm prior to the Bridgestone with these ominously prescient comments: "There's no comparison between a knee and a back. The knee is so much easier to deal with and rehab from than coming back from a back. I've had Achilles injuries, obviously knee surgeries, but this thing is just way different. Most of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing." Woods has yet to rule out this week's PGA Championship, but his season, and his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, are very much in jeopardy. Here's what Woods had to say following his withdrawal.
DJ's Leave of Absence
Dustin Johnson was contending for a FedExCup and was expected to be a stalwart for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Now, his future on Tour is up in the air following his announcement that he was taking a leave of absence to deal with "personal challenges," challenges that include reports of a third failed drug test. Not only must the Tour deal with the body blow of a young star's fall from grace, but it also must deal with the public relations fallout of its secretive disciplinary approach. "With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour,” Ty Votaw, PGA Tour vice president, said on Friday. That exercise in semantics did no one any favors, Johnson included.
• Adam Scott took his loss of the No. 1 world ranking in stride. "It's all good,” said Scott, who had spent the last 11 weeks at No. 1. “It's been a lot of fun. Obviously, Rory's in incredible form at the moment. He'll be the man to beat next week, by the looks of things, and I'll be gunning for him for sure."
• The last player to win consecutive starts entering the PGA Championship was Tiger Woods in 2009 when he won the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before finishing runner-up to Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine. In retrospect, that's looking like Woods' last gasp in major championship golf.
• Phil Mickelson, after bemoaning the state of his game, fired a final-round 62 at the Bridgestone, a round that included 10 birdies, one of them coming on this tasty hole-out from the fairway at 13.