Rory McIlroy storms home to win Arnold Palmer Invitational
Closing 64 included five birdies on the final six holes as he ends title drought
Rory McIlroy celebrates after making his birdie putt on the 18th green in the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Fist-pumps, twirling of clubs and a putter that was on fire! Rory McIlroy ended his winless drought, one that stretched back almost 18 months, with a fabulous final round of 64 – one which saw him birdie five of the finishing six holes – to claim the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.
On fairways and greens fashioned by Palmer, the legendary player known as “The King”, McIlroy bestowed a royal performance on his own with a 64 for a total of 270, 18-under-par, to win his first tournament since the 2016 Tour Championship, the final round of which was played on the day Palmer died. The 28-year-old Northern Irishman scooped a $1.6 million jackpot in marking his return to the winner’s circle.
“I played a perfect round of golf,” McIlroy told Sky Sports 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.
“I’ve missed it, I really have missed it, and to play the sort of golf that I played today under that pressure, I’m really proud of myself and just so happy to win.
“I kept telling everyone I was close, no-one would listen . . . with golf it is never that far away. even when you are playing badly, it is never that far away.”
“It’s ironic to think that the last time I won was when Arnie passed away. To be able to create my own little piece of history on the 18th green here was pretty special.
“I’m just so happy to be back in the winner’s circle again and win a tournament that has Arnold Palmer’s name on it, someone that means so much to us in the game of golf.”
In a final round which saw Tiger Woods flirt with contending down the stretch, and with Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau chase victory, it was McIlroy – who had missed two cut in his previous four outings on the PGA Tour this season – who stole the show with a majestic display.
McIlroy’s all-round game was solid: he led the field in driving distance, scrambling and in strokes gained in putting. The putter was on fire, as he claimed birdies on the sixth (10 feet), seventh (12 feet), ninth (10 feet), 13th (16 feet), 14th (20 feet) and completed a hat-trick with a most improbable chip-in from 15 yards on the 15th to open a two stroke gap over his then closest pursuers – DeChambeau and Stenson.
When he’s on fire, he’s on fire; and McIlroy hit a massive drive – measured at 375 yards on the Par-5 16th – which left him with only a wedge approach. Although his eagle putt missed, his tap-in birdie – a fourth birdie in a row – moved him to 17 under.
Woods, playing in his last tournament before the Masters, made one of his traditional Sunday charges to reaffirm his physical well-being. But an errant drive on the 16th – where he pulled it out-of-bounds, only the second player all week – ended his run up the leaderboard and a final hole birdie saw him finish with a 69 for 278, in fifth position.
“If you would of 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 heart beat,” said Woods of his recent performances, although the out of bounds on 16 played on his mind.
“I wasn’t committed to what I was going to do. 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, don’t do anything. It’s going to go 310, 315 as hot as it is 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.”
Graeme McDowell’s final round unwound in the stretch before the turn, as a double-bogey six on the fifth was followed by bogeys on the sixth, eighth and ninth. However, he salvaged a finishing 73 for 283 – and a top-25 finish – with a string of three successive birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th, where he sank a 25-footer.
LEADING FINAL SCORES
Irish in bold, USA unless stated
270 - Rory McIlroy 69 70 67 64
273 - Bryson DeChambeau 67 66 72 68
274 - Justin Rose (Eng) 69 71 67 67
275 - Henrik Stenson (Swe)
278 - Tiger Woods 68 72 69 69, Ryan Moore 71 67 69 71
280 - Kevin Chappell 70 70 73 67, Marc Leishman 70 70 73 67, Luke List 71 67 74 68, Sean O’Hair 72 71 69 68, Patrick Rodgers 72 71 68 69, Patrick Reed 68 70 71 71
281 - Chris Kirk 71 69 70 71
282 - Kyle Stanley 71 71 71 69, Charles Howell III 72 70 70 70, Sam Horsfield (Eng) 70 73 68 71, Bud Cauley 72 67 70 73, Grayson Murray 71 69 69 73, Byeong Hun An (South Kor) 68 68 72 74, Rickie Fowler 67 71 70 74, Charley Hoffman 71 66 71 74
283 - Brian Gay 73 71 70 69, Harris English 72 71 70 70, Jason Day (Aus) 73 71 67 72, Graeme McDowell 69 72 69 73
284 - William McGirt 70 71 70 73, Zach Johnson 69 71 71 73, Keegan Bradley 72 72 68 72, Francesco Molinari (It) 72 71 69 72, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 69 76 69 70, Emilano Grillo (Arg) 68 75 71 69, Martin Laird (Scot) 72 70 73 69, Tom Hoge 71 70 74 69, John Huh 72 73 66 73, Talor Gooch 65 70 73 76