Plenty at stake as McIlroy returns

McClatchy Newspapers


Since Rory McIlroy won the British Open on July 20, the Claret Jug has become his minion of sorts.

He’s been snapping photos of the silver prize and sending them to his friends, with some coming from loony places.

“Beside the TV and on top of the toilet and wherever it’s been,” McIlroy said. “It’s been quite funny.”

While visiting his parents in Northern Ireland afterward, he brought the jug for a Monday night of revelry in Belfast, although it might not have left his sight had he not been in the company of friends. McIlroy said he won’t be as lax as Keegan Bradley was with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2011 PGA Championship.

“He went to a bar near where we live in Palm Beach Gardens, and he said he was letting everyone in the bar drink out of it,” McIlroy said. “I was like, ’I know the people who hang out there. I wouldn’t let them drink out of that.’ ”

McIlroy brought the jug to Akron as he competes this week in the $9 million Bridgestone Invitational. McIlroy is among the favorites on Firestone Country Club’s South Course, where he has three top-10 finishes in five previous appearances.

“It’s a long golf course and it’s playing just a bit longer with all the rain they’ve had,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “It’s a course I’ve done pretty well on before and I feel comfortable on. These next two weeks, here and Valhalla, they’re courses that should set up well for me. I feel like my game’s in good shape that I can definitely have a chance.”

After Bridgestone, McIlroy will be off to Louisville, Ky., for the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

A triumph at Firestone could enable McIlroy to vault past Adam Scott and move to No. 1 in the world rankings, a spot McIlroy hasn’t held since May 2013. According to Alan Robison of Golf Channel, a Bridgestone victory and Scott finishing outside the top 5 would put McIlroy on top. McIlroy admitted that’s on his mind.

“World No. 1 is a big goal of mine,” he said. “I’ve never won a World Golf Championship, that’s another thing I’d like to knock off the list. There’s a lot of stuff still to play for.”

Since McIlroy added the British Open to his triumphs in the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, many feel the game is witnessing a passing of the torch from Tiger Woods to McIlroy.

Woods, who will defend his eighth title in the Bridgestone Invitational, underwent back surgery on March 31. He’s been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. McIlroy’s three majors at age 25 seem Tiger-like.

“His ability with a driver is stunning,” Jim Furyk said of McIlroy. “When he’s on, he hits it so far and so straight with a driver that I think a lot of the other players look and marvel.

“You could probably pick maybe 10 people in the world of golf that you could compare to Rory and how much success he’s had at the age of 25.”

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