AKRON, Ohio(AP) Bridgestone has become the fourth title sponsor this year to renew its contract with the PGA Tour.
The tire and golf equipment company agreed to back the World Golf Championship event at Firestone Country Club through 2014. Commissioner Tim Finchem and Bridgestone officials announced the agreement Sunday before the start of the tournament’s final round.
Bridgestone joins Accenture (Match Play), Zurich (New Orleans) and Travelers (Hartford), which also renewed contracts through 2014. Finchem calls this a solid trend in a down economy.
“We seem to be now in a very solid trend as we look out past this downturn of having an increasing number of our sponsors step up and move forward with us over the next half a decade,” Finchem said. “And for that we are delighted.”
The tour has signed a new sponsor in SBS for Kapalua, replacing Mercedes-Benz, through 2020; and The Greenbrier Classic, which replaces the Buick Open. Buick has backed out of its sponsorship of tour events, as has the namesake of the US Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
Finchem revealed earlier this year that FBR, sponsor of the Phoenix Open, would not renew its sponsorship deal when it runs out in 2010.
The Bridgestone tournament will remain a WGC event.
Finchem said the new deal would be well received by the world’s top player. Tiger Woods has won the Bridgestone Invitational six times at Firestone Country Club.
“I think the happiest person today might be Tiger,” he said.
SHEDDING THE RUST: After six weeks away from the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson had mixed results in four days at the Bridgestone Invitational.
“There was a little more rust,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t play as well as I expected. I expected to come out here and play well (but) I didn’t score well. I didn’t play as poorly as the score reflected.”
Mickelson closed with a 73 on Sunday to finish at 287, a distant 19 shots behind winner Tiger Woods.
After faltering near the finish at the U.S. Open, Mickelson had stayed at home to be with wife Amy, who is battling breast cancer. Golf was an afterthought for the first few weeks, until he eventually started playing practice rounds. He did fit in a tour of Hazeltine, home of next week’s PGA Championship.
Mickelson was greeted by large and welcoming crowds around Firestone Country Club.
“It’s been nice, and again we’ve had some good diagnosis,” he said. “We’re in a good situation for long-term recovery and yet still it’s not an easy road along the way. We still have ups and downs. But we’ve been fortunate so far.”
SURPRISE SECOND: Robert Allenby recorded an under-the-radar 66 to slide into second behind Tiger Woods when Padraig Harrington blew up down the finish.
There was no question what the key was for Allenby, whose 272 left him four shots back of Woods at the Bridgestone.
At the recommendation of defending champion Vijay Singh several weeks ago, he changed his grip. All of a sudden, he seemed to pour in every putt.
“It’s definitely rejuvenated my game, that’s for sure,” Allenby said. “I wouldn’t say I was on the down and out, but it just didn’t feel good and hasn’t felt food for quite a while. It’s funny, when you feel good with the putter, the rest of your game starts clicking. … Now I’ve got some confidence.”
Allenby needed just 25 putts in the final round, five fewer than a day earlier.
“The putter feels fantastic, it really does,” he said, adding that he hadn’t putted so well since 2005. “I’m excited to get out there and play.”
EURO INVASION: Based on the way they finished the Bridgestone Invitational, maybe another European player will succeed Padraig Harrington as the PGA Championship winner.
Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Darren Clarke all felt good about their games as they packed their bags to head for Hazeltine, site of this week’s final major of the year.
Westwood shot a 5-under 65, the best round of the day, to finish at 5-under 275 for ninth place.
“I have gotten better as this week has gone on so I am looking forward to next week,” he said. “It’s the last major of the year and having come so close at the (British) Open championship, I will try and put that right next week – and get the ‘W’ as they say over here.”
Westwood held a one-shot lead with four holes to play at Turnberry before making back-to-back bogeys.
Rose followed an opening 75 with rounds of 68, 69 and 69 on a long and tree-lined course many think is perfect preparation for Hazeltine.
“This has been the perfect warmup for me,” Rose said.
Clarke finished at even-par 280 and was encouraged with how he played.
“The guys at the PGA of America have been very kind in giving me an invite to play in the tournament, and the fact that I have a little bit of form going into it means I’m very much looking forward to it.”
DIVOTS: The victory was Woods’ 11th in Ohio, including a tournament-record four at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin. … Robert Allenby and Padraig Harrington became the 66th and 67th players to finish runner-up to Woods on the PGA Tour. … Singh, who won the Bridgestone a year ago when Woods was out recuperating from knee surgery, finished at 281, 13 shots behind Woods.