Elated McIlroy blitzes Bay Hill

Rory McIlroy punches the air after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on 18 under, three strokes ahead of Bryson DeChambeau. Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner of the event, was eight shots adrift.
Rory McIlroy punches the air after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on 18 under, three strokes ahead of Bryson DeChambeau. Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner of the event, was eight shots adrift.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 7 claims first victory in 18 months with bogey-free 64 as Woods finishes tied 5th

NEW YORK • This is not the biggest win of Rory McIlroy's career, but it is without question among the most significant.

A day supposedly to confirm Tiger Woods' status as the returning hero instead belonged to McIlroy, for whom, too, injuries have dogged much of his recent past but he confirmed his key part in the narrative for the Masters next month.

Victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy's first tournament success in 18 months, transpired after the kind of rocket-fuelled Sunday which sceptics suggested he could no longer produce.

And it came despite hecklers trying to throw him off his game, with the Northern Irishman calling for a cap on alcohol sales at Tour events.

"There was one guy out there who kept yelling my wife's name... it has gotten a little much... they need to limit the alcohol sales," he added.

But the world No. 7 managed to ride the hostility with an eight-under 64 for an 18-under total of 270. He sealed a three-stroke win, having started two adrift of the lead.

Bryson DeChambeau claimed second place, one stroke clear of Justin Rose. Henrik Stenson, the 54-hole leader, was fourth at 13-under. Yet this was McIlroy's day, his first win since the Tour Championship in September 2016.

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  • Tournaments Rory McIlroy played without winning before Sunday's victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

It seemed somehow fitting that McIlroy won - and in such swashbuckling style - at the event presided over by the golf legend for so many years. He said he had felt good at his events in the Middle East at the start of the year.

"I kept telling everyone I was close. Nobody would believe me but I knew it," McIlroy said.

"It was awesome to feel the buzz of being around the lead on the back nine. I have missed it.

"To play the golf I did under that pressure, I'm so proud of myself and happy to get the win. I gave myself a chance for birdie on almost every hole. I played a perfect round."

After a run of four birdies from the 13th, he holed out in style from 25 feet at the last and his celebrations illustrated how much this win meant.

"I have seen Tiger make that putt on 18 here so many times, I knew what it was going to do," the four-time Major winner said. "I wanted to create my own bit of history."

Woods was within one of the lead on the par-five 16th, a hole he had birdied on each of the previous three days but, this time, it was a bogey six, ending his hopes of winning the tournament for a ninth time as he carded a three-under 69 for a total of 10-under 278.

The former world No. 1, who rose to 105th with his joint-fifth finish, has now posted 10 consecutive rounds of par or better and top-10 finishes in back-to-back weeks.

"If you had said to me at the beginning of the year that I'd have a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in a heartbeat," said Woods, who finished second at the Valspar Championship two weeks ago.

McIlroy's odds on ending his wait for the completion of a career grand slam at Augusta - four years after winning his last Major, the PGA Championship - have suddenly become a whole lot shorter.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'Elated McIlroy blitzes Bay Hill'. Print Edition | Subscribe