There were many talking
There were many talking points during the week at Firestone as Rory McIlroy’s tournament-winning putt on the 72nd hole rounded off a week rife with headlines for golf.
First, there was the Dustin Johnson debacle, as the 30-year-old withdrew from the tournament amidst speculation that he was suspended by the PGA Tour for failing a drugs test. It was a development that stunned the world of golf and poured doubt over the mentality of the American Ryder Cup team.
As the ghost of Johnson hovered over the tournament all week, Tiger Woods also featured in the headlines for the wrong reasons. After lashing out at a cameraman on Saturday in the middle of some poor play, Woods withdrew on the 9th hole on Sunday citing a recurrence of the back injury that has seen him miss most of this season.
Woods’ participation in next week’s USPGA Championship and the Ryder Cup have been thrown into immediate doubt. In fact, some observers are going as far as to say it looks like the beginning of the end for Woods’ career.
McIlroy and Garcia to the top
Regarding McIlroy, the main talking point has been, understandably, his return to the summit of world golf and the continuation of fine form that helped him capture his first Open Championship last month. In his first outing since winning the Claret Jug, McIlroy has furthered his claim for golfing domination by taking his first World Golf Championship and will now set his sights on taking another major this week at Valhalla.
However, another theme emerging from Firestone, one that has slipped under the radar in the face of a golfing news storm, has been the strong performances of the European players as a whole. Apart from McIlroy, Garcia continued his impressive form with a runner-up finish to back-up his second-place at the Open.
On both occasions, it was simply a case of McIlroy’s brilliance taking the titles away from Garcia and the Spaniard will be hurting from even more near misses in a career that seems defined by them but his high-placing on those leader boards will have pleased captain Paul McGinley ahead of the Ryder Cup.
Justin Rose is another one who will have put McGinley’s mind to ease by continuing a glorious summer form that has seen him pick up the Quicken Loans National championship at the end of June in Washington DC and the Scottish Open in July. The world number five played consistently and solidly all week and looks in complete control of his game ahead of Gleneagles in six weeks.
As for Henrik Stenson, the Swede has been threatening to recapture the sensational form that brought him to the top of both the European and US tours last season with a string of impressive finishes. After finishing fourth at the US Open, Stenson missed out on the BMW International in a play-off and soldified his decent form with a top-20 finish at Firestone.
Can McGinley pull it off?
McGinley will also have been encouraged by the weekend play of Graeme McDowell, whose place in the Ryder Cup is not assured, as the Northern Irishman carded successive rounds of 66 en route to a tied-8th finish at Firestone.
That has capped a run of five-straight top-10 finishes for the Ulsterman this summer, including a win in the French Open that, if fails to secure an automatic place in McGinley’s team, will make him a white-hot favourite for a captains pick.
McGinley will be very happy with the way his players are performing of late, with the Official World Golf Rankings showing four Europeans in the top five. Even better for Europe is there are no Americans in the top five- an extremely rare occurrence.
On top of that, the summer has shown a degree of European dominance in the biggest tournaments with Kaymer taking the US Open and McIlroy winning both the Open and Bridgestone, McGinley’s side are definitely looking the hungrier and are odds-on to repeat the Miracle of Medinah triumph in 2012.
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