This was supposed to be the week Tiger Woods won a golf tournament at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Someone forgot to tell Rory McIlroy about the game plan.
As Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press wrote on Sunday, McIlroy ran off five birdies over his last six holes and closed with an 8-under 64 for a three-shot victory. He won for the first time since the Tour Championship on Sept. 25, 2016, the day Palmer died.
It was a day that started out as one where fans watched and waited for Woods to make his move. He did, but could not overcome the late charge by McIlroy, who walked away with yet another PGA victory and helped make an already solid start to the 2018 PGA Tour that much greater.
“McIlroy left some indelible images of his own Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a back-nine charge that would have made the King proud, and a final putt on the 18th green that a delirious gallery had seen for so many years from Woods,” Ferguson added.
The dialogue all week was centered around Woods, his charge late last week in Innisbrook and the move to Bay Hill, a course he has all but owned during his career. If there was a course where Woods would break the winless drought, it most certainly would have been in his own backyard.
McIlroy had his own demons to exorcise. It looked like vintage Woods, who started the final round five shot behind, made three birdies in a four-hole stretch to start the back nine. AS he got to one stroke behind the leader, the wheels came off the wagon. Again, he was close, but not good enough. He finished bogey-bogey-par for a 3-under 69 and tumbled down the leaderboard into a tie for fifth.
McIlroy, on the other hand, got hot late and cruised to victory.
“I’ve seen Tiger make that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So, I just wanted to try and emulate that. 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 pretty special.”
Fans and the media will look back at the 16th hole and the one that cost Woods the tournament. After his final round, where he went bogey-bogey to finish the day, he said he did not commit to the hole, which became his undoing.
“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,” Woods explained.
“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.”
The weekend did not change the fact Woods is still on a reinvention tour of sorts. His game is much improved, and his putting is allowing him to remain in contention so far this season.
At the Valspar Championship, Woods shot all four rounds under par and finished a shot behind winner Paul Casey, coming up short with a birdie putt to tie on the last hole.
“If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” he said. “Everything was an unknown. I didn’t know what I was going to feel like, what I was going to do, what swing I was going to make.”
McIlroy shot a 64 for the final round. Even if Woods had may a birdie on 16, and then parred to the remaining holes, he still would not have been able to catch McIlroy.