Sergio Garcia shoots 61 to take Firestone lead
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Sergio Garcia one-putted the final 11 holes and made birdies on his last seven holes Friday in the Bridgestone Invitational to tie the course record at Firestone with a 9-under 61 and take a three-shot lead into the weekend.
He had a birdie putt on every hole on the back nine, missing only a 15-footer from the fringe at No. 11. Garcia shot 27 on the back nine, a course record.
“Just one of those moments that you love and you enjoy, and you wish there were no end,” he said.
It matched the tournament record held by Tiger Woods, who shot 61 in 2000 and 2013, and Jose Maria Olazabal, who shot his 61 in 1990. Woods went on to win by 11 shots in 2000 and seven shots last year. Olazabal won by 12 in the World Series of Golf.
Garcia was at 11-under 129, three shots clear of Justin Rose, who had a 67. British Open champion Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes for a 64 and joined Marc Leishman of Australia (67) four shots off the lead.
McIlroy played in the group behind Garcia, and could hear what was going on if he couldn’t see it.
“Every time I looked, he was putting a ball in the hole and the crowd was cheering,” McIlroy said. “I knew that he was making a few birdies.”
Garcia was five shots off the lead when he had to scramble to save pars on back-to-back holes to close out the front nine on what seemed to be an ordinary round. Two good swings on the 10th hole led to a 20-foot birdie putt. He hit 8-iron to 2 feet on No. 12 and 3 feet on No. 13 for the easiest birdies he had all day, and those turned out to be the start of his big run.
The Spaniard finished in style, making birdie putts of 15, 25 and 20 feet on his last three holes.
“Sunday would be even nicer,” Garcia said. “But I’ll take what I can get.”
His previous best score was a 62 on three other occasions — as a 19-year-old at the Scottish Open and Byron Nelson Classic in 1999, and at Mount Juliet in 2002 at the American Express Championship.
Woods hit only four fairways off the tee and couldn’t seem to make anything on the green. It added to a 71, leaving him 10 shots behind.
“I didn’t hit the ball well. I didn’t putt well. I didn’t do anything well,” Woods said. “The only thing I did well was I fought hard. Grinded hard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good day.”
Rose missed only two greens in posting a 67 as his momentum builds toward the final major of the year next week at the PGA Championship. He won back-to-back starts at Congressional and Royal Aberdeen before stalling slightly at the British Open.
Just two weeks ago, Garcia challenged McIlroy briefly at Royal Liverpool until tying for second in the British Open. But this was something special, and the Spaniard could sense it.
“It feels great to be able to ... equal the course record on a course like this. Even playing soft, it’s not that easy a course,” Garcia said. “You have to drive the ball very, very well. You have to put the ball on the greens on the right spots because you can get some really, really fast putts.
“Being in a group with Tiger and Jose Maria, it feels really good.”