Ryo Ishikawa was in contention to win his first PGA Tour event until the final five holes, when his inconsistencies on the green and Adam Scott’s gritty putting forced him to fade away.
Ishikawa, the 19-year-old Japanese phenom, tumbled to fourth in the Bridgestone Invitational after battling Scott for the lead through the first 13 holes. Ishikawa was a stroke behind when Scott birdied 14, then Ishikawa three-putted on the par-3 No. 15 and Scott saved par after his tee shot landed in the rough.
That gave Scott a 4-stroke lead heading to the final three holes, a lead that proved insurmountable.
“Fifteen was huge, and it was a huge turning point with Ryo three-putting there because it could have easily gone the other way,” Scott said.
Ishikawa pushed his first putt on No. 15, from 47 feet away, a good 8 feet past the hole. When his second putt rolled right of the cup, Scott all but clinched the $1.4 million top prize.
“The 14th and 15th hole separated everything today,” Ishikawa said through a translator. “The reason I lost was because of the bogeys, obviously. I think it has to do with my putting and my approach shots.”
Ishikawa has 11 victories already, with his first coming on the Japan Tour when he was only 15. This was by far his best showing in America and earned him $332,500. He is donating all of his prize money this year to the earthquake and tsunami disaster relief funds in Japan. This purse puts him at about $1.26 million, more than halfway to his goal of $2.4 million. A victory at Firestone would have allowed him to reach his goal.
Still, his golf future certainly seems bright.
“The kid is only 19. It’s hard to fathom,” said Tiger Woods, who was 20 when he debuted on the PGA Tour. “Give this kid another decade, he’s going to be unreal.”
Toms finishes strong
David Toms shot a 3- under 67 Sunday to finish tied for ninth with Lee Westwood. Now he’ll head back to Atlanta Athletic Club for next week’s PGA Championship, a course he won on the last time the PGA was held in Atlanta a decade ago.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the place, obviously,” Toms said. “But it’s a very different golf course now — different grass on the greens, different grass on the fairways and a lot of length.”
Toms, 44, said the length at Atlanta is similar to the length of Firestone, where he shot 2 under every other day and birdied the final hole on Sunday to finish his final round 3 under.
“It’s just a lot of long shots overall,” Toms said. “It’s going to be similar to this week and driving the ball is going to be very demanding next week.”
Love for Firestone
Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, shot 68 and finished 10-under par, tied for sixth, his best in eight appearances at Firestone. His only other top 10 was a tie for ninth in 2005.
“I think Firestone Country Club is probably one of the most consistent courses we play every year,” Johnson said. “It’s always in really good condition. It’s always tough. It magnifies your weaknesses. If you’re off, it’ll show. If you’re on, you can put a number up.”
Asked whether he agreed with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who lists Firestone among his top three courses, Johnson said, “If the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open had an issue with the golf course, say, three weeks prior, you could just come here. This place can be ready in a matter of days. If you think about it, the membership has got three [courses] to pick from. This place is kind of a hidden gem.”
That nearly happened in 1990, when a race-relations controversy threatened the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. Former Firestone General Manager Don Padgett II told the Beacon Journal in 2004 that Firestone and Muirfield Village were the backups if the major had to be moved.
Teachers’ big day
Two teachers at Rankin Elementary who recently participated in Phil Mickelson’s Exxon Mobile Teachers Academy met their favorite golfer after Sunday’s round.
Beverly Smith, 59, of West Akron and Anna Marie Panning, 51, of Ellet, followed Mickelson for 18 holes and spoke to him afterward, getting their T-shirts from the five-day training session signed and posing for pictures.
“We appreciate you sacrificing a week of your summer,” Mickelson said.
“We’re never washing these again,” Panning said of their shirts. Countered Smith, “These are going to be our new lab jackets.”
They were among four from the Akron area who attended the academy for teachers in first to fifth grades in New Orleans in early July. Also going were Darla Gormley and Kathleen Koehler of the YMCA- Voris Community Learning Center. Six hundred teachers a year participate at sites around the country.
Panning said the experience better than a cruise. “Everything was first class. As teachers, we usually end up staying at a Super 8. We even had our own rooms,” Panning said.
A fourth-grade teacher, Smith said they saw “lots of amazing science experiments” conducted, with the focus on Newton’s laws of motion.
“There were lots of ways to set up the classroom,” she said. “Get over the picture-perfect bulletin boards and have bulletin boards to help kids learn.”
Panning, now teaching fifth grade, said they also had several sessions on cross-curriculum programs that involved reading, math and science.
Panning has been a full-time teacher in Akron for five years, Smith for 14, but she has taught for 25 years.
McIlroy is solid
McIlroy, 22, liked his performance this week in finishing in a tie for sixth place at 10-under 270. He opened with a pair of 68s and closed with a pair of 67s.
“It’s been a very productive week, to shoot four rounds in the 60s. There’s a lot of positives going into next week, which is great,” McIlroy said, referring to the PGA Championship Thursday through Sunday in Atlanta. “It would have been nice to give myself a little more of a chance to win this week. Just didn’t hole enough putts.
“But it was a good week and a good confidence-builder going into next week, definitely.”
McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open, was making his third appearance in the tournament, finishing in a tie for 68th in 2009 and a tie for ninth in 2010.
Mahan ties for 37th
Defending champion Hunter Mahan never was in position to make it two titles in a row.
Mahan, 29, of Colleyville, Texas, finished 13 shots higher than he did last year with a 1-over 281 for a tie for 37th place. In 2010, he shot a 6-under 64 in the final round to finish at 12-under 268 and beat runner-up Ryan Palmer by 2 shots.
He won $58,500 in 2011 after earning the first prize of $1.4 million in 2010.
Appleby is last
The Bridgestone Invitational has its own Mr. Irrelevant and it’s Stuart Appleby, who finished last in the field of 76 players.
Appleby, 40, an Australian now living in Orlando, Fla., has been battling back problems.
He never broke 70 in any round and finished at 19-over 299, which was 2 shots worse than No. 75 Yuta Ikeda of Japan.
Appleby still was able to pocket a decent paycheck in the no-cut event, earning last-place money of $36,000.
In the fourth round Sunday, the easiest hole for the fourth consecutive day was the par-5 No. 2, which yielded an average score of 4.447 or .553 under par. It had two eagles, 43 birdies, 26 pars and five bogeys. The hardest hole was the par-4 No. 18, which played to an average of 4.197 or .197 over par. It had 12 birdies, 39 pars, 23 bogeys and two double bogeys.
In the field of 76, there were 35 players over par, 27 under par and 14 at par.