McIlroy and Garcia go head-to-head

Rory McIlroy, pictured, is battling Sergio Garcia for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title (AP)

Rory McIlroy, pictured, is battling Sergio Garcia for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title (AP)

First published in National Sport News © by

A fortnight after battling for the Open Championship, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia were locked in a thrilling duel for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.

Torrential rain which forced play to be suspended earlier in the day meant the Ryder Cup team-mates did not tee off until 3:20pm local time at Firestone Country Club, 75 minutes later than scheduled.

But McIlroy wasted no time in turning a three-shot deficit into a two-shot lead within the space of five holes, before Garcia battled back to leave the destiny of the title and £900,000 first prize in the balance.

The Open champion pulled his opening drive into the rough but had a gap through the trees and hit a superb low pitch to three feet, while Garcia had to settle for a par by two-putting from long range.

McIlroy then two-putted from long range on the par-five second for another birdie and also birdied the third to take over the lead as Garcia bogeyed, but that did not tell half the story of an amazing hole.

Garcia's errant drive into the crowd somehow knocked the diamond out of a female spectator's engagement ring and after giving her a signed ball, the Spaniard asked for her contact information after hitting his second shot over the green.

Thankfully, the precious stone was quickly recovered but Garcia was unable to get up and down to save par and McIlroy holed from eight feet for a third straight birdie.

When McIlroy also birdied the fifth from five feet it meant a five-shot swing had taken place in the space of five holes and gave the world number two a two-shot lead.

Garcia desperately needed something to go in his favour and it happened on the eighth, McIlroy driving into the rough and finding a greenside bunker with his approach, from where he failed to get up and down.

Garcia, who had won just three times on the 15 occasions he held the lead after 54 holes, then got back on level terms with a birdie from 15 feet on the ninth, McIlroy missing from just six feet.

That meant the pair went into the back nine tied on 14 under par, a back nine Garcia played in just 27 shots in his second round of 61 on Friday, but it was McIlroy who edged back in front with a birdie on the 11th from eight feet, Garcia then missing from a few inches closer.

Low scoring was the order of the day on the rain-softened course, five-time major winner Phil Mickelson charging through the field with an eight-under-par 62 which featured 10 birdies and two bogeys.

"I don't know what to say, it kind of came out of nowhere," Mickelson said after finishing five under for the tournament. "The first two rounds really threw me for a loop. I have been struggling getting my short irons close and today they were right on.

"I made a lot of birdies and it was nice. Today was a big day to give me a lot of confidence and momentum heading into the US PGA next week."

England's Lee Westwood had also found some welcome form after four consecutive missed cuts, the 41-year-old carding a flawless 63.

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