By Jay Betsill
Tiger Woods had the crowd in a frenzy when he pulled to within one shot of the lead on the back nine on Sunday at Bay Hill, but it was another former No. 1 player Rory McIlroy who would birdie five of the last six holes en route to a final round 64 to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
While there has been much talk of Woods’ winless streak dating back to 2013, this was McIlroy’s first win since the 2016 Tour Championship, a span of 539 days.
The date was Sept. 25, 2016, the day that Arnold Palmer passed away.
“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 said. “But hopefully, he’s proud of me, with the way I played that back nine. I tried to be as aggressive as I could and tried to take on shots when I needed to, just like he would have. So yeah, it’s come full circle since that day in September in 2016, and just proud to be sitting up here and have my name on that trophy.”
Woods had won this event eight times and following his runner-up at last week’s Valspar Championship, many experts predicted this would be the week that he would return to the winner’s circle.
“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,” Woods said. “I’m extremely pleased.”
After three birdies on the back nine, Woods stepped up to the par-5 16th hole with a chance to tie McIlroy with a birdie. He pulled out the driver and proceeded to hook it out of bounds to the left of the fairway.
“I wasn’t committed to what I was going to do,” Woods said. “If I hit a 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 [yards] to carry, and as hot as it is, the ball’s flying. Or just hit a 3-wood straight away, don’t do anything. It’s going to go 310, 315 as hot as it right now, and that’s going to leave me an 8-iron and so 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.”
Bryson DeChambeau finished second, three shots behind McIlroy at 15-under.
Justin Rose was third at 14-under followed by Henrik Stenson at 13-under.
Notables in the field included Rickie Fowler (T14, -6), Jason Day (T22, -5), Tommy Fleetwood (T26, -4), Zach Johnson (T26, -4) and Adam Scott (T41, -2).
Next up on the PGA Tour is the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.