McIlroy blitzes Bay Hill for 64 and victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard
March 18, 2018
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy's highlights | Round 4 | Arnold Palmer
Tune into the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and it’s never long before the talk turns to legends. It starts with the tournament’s namesake, Palmer, segues to eight-time API winner Tiger Woods, and now will move on to another legend, albeit one we hadn’t heard from for a while.
Rory McIlroy, breaking a winless streak that extended back to the 2016 TOUR Championship, shot a bogey-free, 8-under 64 to pick up his 14th PGA TOUR victory at warm, sunny Bay Hill on Sunday.
Bryson DeChambeau (68) finished second, three back.
“Yeah, it's been awhile,” said McIlroy, who led the field in driving distance (316.5 yards); proximity to the hole (29 feet, 7 inches); scrambling (80.77 percent); and strokes gained: putting (2.507). “Oh, what a day.”
McIlroy, who took a putting lesson from friend Brad Faxon early in the week, went even par for his first five holes, then played what he termed a “flawless” final 13 holes, going 8-under. He shot up 154 spots in the FedExCup, to 24th, is projected to move back into the top 10 in the world, and joins Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only players in the modern era to win 14 or more times by age 30.
“I've always believed in myself and I know that me being 100 percent healthy is good enough to not just win on the PGA TOUR, but win a lot,” McIlroy said. “And I guess that's what kept me going.”
Last season was the first since 2008 that McIlroy had failed to win on any tour. Granted, he had a lot going on. He changed his equipment and his caddie, got married, fought through a rib injury, bought a new house and began remodeling it. Still, no wins. And the start of this season seemed to bring more of the same. McIlroy had missed two cuts in four TOUR starts coming into Bay Hill.
All of that pent-up potential, though, burst through in a torrent of red numbers Sunday. McIlroy made birdie putts of just over 10 feet at the sixth, seven and ninth holes, then started filling up the highlight reel. He made a 21-footer at 14, chipped in at 15, and he was just getting started. McIlroy pasted a 373-yard drive down the 16th fairway, leading to an easy two-putt birdie, and topped everything off with a curling, 25-foot birdie putt at 18, a putt he later said he’d seen Woods make more than once.
You can draw a lot of straight lines between McIlroy and Woods, who shot a final-round 69 to tie for fifth at 10-under, eight back. Nearly seven years ago, with Woods seemingly winding down, McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. Golf’s next big megastar had come along right on cue. When McIlroy won The Honda Classic the next year to take over the No. 1 ranking (from Luke Donald), he beat Woods by two. They shared a sponsor and a rapport, and seemed to have positioned themselves in the history books as contiguous rulers of the game.
Then Jordan Spieth came along, and Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, as McIlroy spun his wheels. He lost his top ranking and had fallen all the way to 13th by the time he got to Orlando.
But as we’ve seen with Mickelson, Woods and now McIlroy, legends don’t stay down for long.
Before his Sunday fireworks at Bay Hill, the last time McIlroy had lifted a trophy, at the TOUR Championship at East Lake, where he also won the FedExCup, was Sept. 25, 2016. That was the day that Palmer died. McIlroy was asked about the coincidence more than once Sunday.
“For me to get my next win here is, it means a lot,” he said. “I've had quite a connection with Arnold Palmer over the past few years and I've been very fortunate to spend some time with him here and he was always so nice to me. I've got so many letters from him from wins and all sorts of stuff.
“I wish he would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green there,” McIlroy added, “but hopefully he's proud of me with the way I played that back nine and tried to be as aggressive as I could and tried to take on shots when I needed to, just like he would have.”
DECHAMBEAU EAGLE ADDS INTRIGUE. By the time Bryson DeChambeau got to the par-5 16th hole, McIlroy looked like he was running away with the tournament. The plot thickened, though, as DeChambeau buried an eagle putt from just inside 16 feet at the par-5 16th hole. That brought him to within one of McIlroy, but the threat from the SMU product was short-lived as McIlroy curled in a left-to-right birdie putt on 18 for a two-shot cushion.
Needing to birdie the last two holes to tie, DeChambeau watched his birdie try veer left at the last second at 17 before a meaningless bogey at 18 left him 15-under, three back and in second alone.
“Ultimately it kind of stinks,” DeChambeau said, “but at the same point in time I'm happy with where my game's at. Obviously finishing second out here is not an easy task with all these great players, and this is, honestly, my first time being in the big thick of things with a lot of the guys. So it was great to be comfortable out there and to actually make a couple clutch putts.”
It was his best finish since winning the John Deere Classic last summer, and he cited the day as a “learning experience” that told him he could play with the world’s best, even Tiger Woods.
“Really what I was feeding off of was the John Deere, making those six birdies on the final nine,” said DeChambeau, who moved up to 19th in the FedExCup. “I was trying to do that; 17, 18, I was trying to birdie them. You saw me go for it on 18. My caddie was like, ‘Dude, just hit it in the middle of the green.’ And I'm like, ‘All right.’ And I get over it and I'm like, no, I'm going for it.”
HENRIK STENSON – Took a one-shot lead into the final round and was attempting to become the third straight TOUR winner in his 40s. Alas, Stenson, making just his third TOUR start this season, never looked sharp, especially not on the greens, in turning in a final-round 71 to finish fourth. He’s now three for seven at converting third-round leads/co-leads into a win.
TIGER WOODS – Final-round 69 gave fans a thrill and briefly got him to within a shot of the lead, but his chances went from slim to none as he pulled his tee shot out-of-bounds left on 16. He would bogey the hole, but in the end, it wouldn’t have mattered even if he had eagled it. With the winner McIlroy going 5-under for the last six holes to get to 18-under, Woods wound up eight off the lead and in a tie for fifth place. He moved up eight spots to 35th in the FedExCup.
JUSTIN ROSE – He didn’t win or even come very close, but in shooting a second straight 67 for a third-place finish, the highest-ranked player in the field (fifth) acquitted himself well and perhaps exceeded expectations after a brutal start. Rose, coming off a T5 at the Valspar Championship, triple-bogeyed his second hole of the API, the par-4 11th, on Thursday, and was 4-over before he began to claw his way back.
MARC LEISHMAN – Defending champion shot 67 for a solid T7 finish, 10 shots back.
QUOTABLESI don’t know what he did on the last nine, but it was deep. I know that.I’m sure this was an exciting tournament to watch.Never.
Low round: 8-under 64 by winner Rory McIlroy.
Longest drive: McIlroy, 373 yards at the par-5 16th, leading to a birdie.
Longest putt: Chris Kirk, 61 feet, 1 inch on 18.
Toughest hole: The par-3 second hole, which played to a stroke average of 3.254.
Easiest hole: The par-5 16th hole, which played to a stroke average of 4.354.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Rory McIlroy drains birdie putt on the 72nd hole for Shot of the Day
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