‘Perfect’ McIlroy wins in style
Rory McIlroy’s previous victory came at the Tour Championship on 25 September 2016 – the day that the great Arnold Palmer died – so it felt fitting that he ended his 18-month tournament victory drought at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy carded a superb final-round 64 – which he described as ‘perfect’ – at Bay Hill to hold off an all-star chasing pack including three-time Champion Golfer Tiger Woods, Olympic and major champion Justin Rose and 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson.
It was young American Bryson DeChambeau who ultimately finished second – three shots back of the Northern Irishman – and the poetic nature of his drought being ended at a tournament bearing Palmer’s name wasn’t lost on McIlroy.
“For me to get my next win here, it means a lot,” said McIlroy, who won The Open at Hoylake in 2014. "I've had quite a connection with Arnold Palmer. He was always so nice to me – I've got so many letters from him from wins. I wish he would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green, but hopefully he is proud of me with the way I played that back nine."
“I played a perfect round of golf. It was awesome to feel the buzz of being somewhere around the lead going into the back nine and reeling off those four birdies in a row.”
More positives for Woods
For a second consecutive Sunday, Tiger Woods found himself in contention on a Sunday and even though bogeys at 16 and 17 derailed him, there were plenty of positives in the latest leg of his return.
Woods has won eight Arnold Palmer Invitationals in his career and although he didn’t end up on cloud nine, the 42-year-old was content enough to end in a tie for fifth – claiming the weekly improvements in his game are there for all to see.
“The fans gave me all the adrenaline in the world,” he said. “And to be in contention... if I can play with no pain and I can feel like I can make golf swings; each tournament has gotten a little crisper.”
Laying down a marker
Stenson led at Bay Hill overnight – and would have become the third consecutive PGA Tour winner in his 40s had he triumphed – but McIlroy’s scintillating back nine left his rivals in his wake. The 28-year-old reeled off five birdies on the final six holes, causing Rose to claim afterwards he had never seen his compatriot putt so well, and finished things off with a 25-footer that saw him raise his arms aloft, knowing victory was all but secure.
It was a timely success for McIlroy with the first major of the year little over a fortnight away. Slipping on the Green Jacket is, of course, the only achievement the Brit needs to complete a career Grand Slam.
With McIlroy back to his best, all of golf’s biggest names appear to be rounding into form just in time for Augusta. The likes of world No.1 Dustin Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and 2013 Champion Golfer Phil Mickelson have all won tournaments in recent weeks, while 14-time major winner Woods and England’s Rose have found consistency and reigning Champion Golfer Jordan’ Spieth’s putter appears to be heating up.