The last time Rory McIlroy won on the US PGA Tour, he did it in scintillating fashion, shooting a back-nine 30 at East Lake and eventually winning the Tour Championship in a playoff over Kevin Chappell. He may have topped that performance on Sunday at Bay Hill, closing with an eight-under 64 that included a back-nine 31 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Coming into the week, McIlroy was not playing his best golf, having missed two of his four cuts on the PGA Tour and playing his last eight rounds in 14-over par. But something clicked in just about every facet of his game, which led to a total score of 18-under 270, the second-lowest of the last decade for a winner at Bay Hill. While his putting played a key role this week, it was improvement everywhere else that McIlroy was most pleased with.
“I kept saying the last few weeks that I wasn’t that far away and it just takes something to click into place, and something clicked into place with my long game, obviously something clicked into place with my putting as well, and this is the result. It’s just so nice to see everything come together finally,” McIlroy said.
After turning in three-under 33, the Northern Irishman cooled off, making three consecutive pars and finding himself in a tie for the lead with Henrik Stenson as Tiger Woods was making a charge up ahead. But then McIlroy found another gear, the one we’ve come to see from the four-time Major winner in the past.
It started at the par-4 13th, where he holed a 16-footer for birdie. That began a four consecutive birdie stretch that included a chip-in at the par-4 15th and a two-putt birdie at the 16th, which came after a 375-yard drive and flip wedge into the green. With Bryson DeChambeau making a late run, McIlroy made sure to add some insurance at the 72nd hole, holing his final birdie from 24 feet and letting out an emotional fist pump.
“I’ve seen Tiger make that putt enough times to know what it does, so I just wanted to try and emulate that,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t quite give it the hat toss, I was thinking about doing it, but just to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is very special. I’m just really proud of myself to have hung in there over the past few months, or nearly a year with injury and everything else that’s happened. To get my first PGA Tour win in, I don’t know how long it is, it feels really nice.”
As for where McIlroy finally got his 14th career PGA Tour win, that was pretty special too.
“It means a lot, you know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day that Mr Palmer passed away [September 25, 2016], so it’s a little bit ironic that I come here and win.”
Finishing three back at 15-under 273 was DeChambeau, whose eagle at the 16th hole got him within a shot of McIlroy’s lead. But when McIlroy dropped his long birdie at 18, and DeChambeau’s birdie effort slid by at the 17th, the former US Amateur and NCAA champion’s chances of a second career PGA Tour title disappeared. DeChambeau finished with a final-round 69, putting him in solo second, his best result of the year.
Justin Rose (67) finished in solo third at 14-under 274, and Stenson (71) in solo fourth at 13-under 275.
Woods gave it a great effort on Sunday, getting to within a shot of the lead late in his round, but back-to-back bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes put a halt to his run. He finished with a three-under 69, putting him in a tie for fifth with Ryan Moore at 10-under 278.
Of the Australians, defending champion Marc Leishman closed with a 67 to tie for seventh on eight-under 280. Jason Day (72) was T-22 at five under, Adam Scott (71) was T-41 at two under, while Curtis Luck (76) was T-58 at one-over par.