Rory McIlroy fires final-round 64 to win Arnold Palmer Invitational; Tiger ties for 5th

ORLANDO – With enormous galleries triggering the Richter scale on a hot Sunday at Bay Hill, Tiger Woods stood on the tee box of the 16th hole one shot out of the lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The top of the leaderboard was packed with A-list talent, with Woods and other major champions Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose all in position to win, and Arnie’s place was ready to explode.

And then, poof.

Woods sailed his tee shot on the easiest hole on the course, a par-5 playing short, out of bounds to the left of the fairway and the decibel level nearly went mute. Just like that, Woods’ run at an 80th PGA Tour title during his remarkable return to the game was suddenly kaput.

Woods went on to bogey the 16th and then the 17th and finished with a 3-under-par 69 and 10 under for the tournament. He tied for fifth, eight shots behind McIlroy, who made eight birdies in his last 13 holes.

“I wasn’t committed to what I was going to do,” Woods said of his errant drive. “If I hit driver I have to fit it with a cut. Back of my mind, I said, ‘Why don’t you just bomb it over the top?’ It’s only like 320 to carry and as hot as it is, the ball’s flying. Or just hit a 3-wood straight away.

“In the back of my mind I’m running through these different scenarios and it’s on me. I didn’t commit to either one of those three shots and I hit a poor one.”

While Woods’ return to the winner’s circle remained just out of his grasp, McIlroy once again was back in full flight. McIlroy made four consecutive birdies on the back nine, which included a chip-in for a 3 on the par-4 15th, and then closed with another birdie from 25 feet on the 18th to close out his win.

McIlroy signed for a 64 to finish at 18 under, three shots ahead of Bryson DeChambeau (68). Rose finished another stroke back in third after a 67. Stenson, the 54-hole leader, finished fourth with a 71.

McIlroy, a former world No. 1 and a four-time major champion, had gone 26 tournaments since his last victory at the Tour Championship in 2016 to win the FedEx Cup. But he said this week he’s back to loving the game again and that he even enjoys all the practice rounds. He took advantage of his length and rode a hot, new putter to his 14th victory on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy missed the cut last week in the Valspar Championship.

“I worked on everything since then, my ball-striking, my driving, my putting,” said McIlroy, who needed just 100 putts this week, the lowest number he’s ever had en route to a win on the PGA Tour. “I was saying the last two weeks that I wasn’t that far away. It was nice to see everything come together finally. To get my first PGA Tour win in I don’t know how long it is, feels great.”

Despite Woods coming up short, it was the second consecutive Sunday where the red shirt meant something on the Tour. Woods, bedridden and in constant pain just 11 months ago, came up one shot short last week and finished in a tie for second in the Valspar, his best result since 2015.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Woods, whose 69 was his 10th consecutive round of par or better, his longest stretch in six years.

This was his fifth start on the PGA Tour this year, and fourth in the last five weeks. And now he’ll head into the Masters, which he’s won four times but hasn’t played the past two years, coming off his best two finishes since 2015.

With more repetitions under his belt – and the ability to practice at length because he’s pain free – Woods has regained his tournament feels. While he’s still adjusting to his fused back, which limits his rotation, he still is one of the longest hitters in the game. His famous stinger is again a weapon. He can hit the ball both ways and is flighting shots with ease.

And his short game has been impeccable.

“If I can play with no pain and I can feel like I can make golf swings I’ll figure it out,” Woods said. “I’m starting to piece it together tournament by tournament and each tournament’s gotten a little crisper and a little bit better.”

And he can’t wait to get to Augusta National.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Woods said. “I haven’t really thought that much about it, especially this week. I’ve been grinding and focusing on this week, trying to win this thing and now the tournament’s over, I’ll start to make some changes for Augusta. What kind of equipment setup I’m going to go with, some things I want to do with my swing.

“I’m looking forward to it. I miss playing there.”

 

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