Steely McIlroy climbs to the top

 

Golf:Rory McIlroy is golf’s world number one. The 22-year-old fended off a determined charge from Tiger Woods at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida tonight to win The Honda Classic on 12 under and complete his ascent to the top of the rankings, the first Irishman to do so.

Closing out a tournament on the final day is never easy; McIlroy has the scars to prove it. But to do it when chasing a lifelong dream, when the game’s biggest name is tearing up the course on his way to a 62 and when your game begins to creak on the way in, takes a special talent.

McIlroy certainly is that.

“It was tough today, especially when seeing Tiger make a charge, seeing him post 10 under," said McIlroy. "You know, I knew par golf would probably be good enough today and that’s what I was trying to do. To shoot one-under-par in these conditions when you go into the final round in the lead is very nice and I was just able to get the job done.

“My short game all week has been very good, and it’s what you need on a tough golf course like this. You’re not going to hit every green and when you do put yourself in a bit of bother you need to get yourself up and down and I did that, especially on 15 and 17 when I needed to make pars there.

“My short game has felt great all week and it definitely save me out there today.”

He began the day two ahead of playing partner Tom Gillis and ended with the same advantage over the same man, and Woods, but that tells nothing of the final leg of his journey to the top.

At the second, fifth and seventh he needed par putts from 13, eight and 12 feet, respectively. At the 12th he gave back the birdie carded on the eighth, missing on the high side with an 11-footer, but reclaimed it at the next with supreme ease, a birdie more typical of his previous rounds.

When his irons went awry on the back nine, just after Woods moved to within two shots with an eagle at the last for his best ever final round, McIlroy chipped out of trouble from thick rough on the 14th and sand on 15, before saving par with putts from four and six feet.

He wasn’t picking up shots like he had on the way to 66s and a 67 this week, but he sure wasn’t giving them up.

The Holywood golfer was top of the scrambling charts for the week and at the par-three 17th he almost seemed to seek refuge in the greenside bunker, rather than hit the water, before caressing it out to four feet and taking his par.

With the ‘Bear Trap’ negotiated in level par, the par-five 18th was easy pickings. A booming drive was followed by a sensible lay-up, a pitch to the heart of the green, two putts and a relieved fist pump. Mission accomplished.