Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, and not Tiger Woods, was the former top-ranked golfer in the world who earned a big comeback victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
As Woods faltered on the final holes, McIlroy birdied five of the last six to post a bogey-free 8-under-par 64 and win for the first time since 2016, finishing three strokes ahead of Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
“To hang in there through injuries and other things to win for the first time in a year and a half is pretty nice,” said McIlroy, whose last victory on the PGA Tour came in the Tour Championship on Sept. 25, 2016. “The last time I won on the PGA Tour came on the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so to win here is special. I just wish I could have walked up the hill and shook his hand.
“I kept saying recently that I was not far away, and everything just clicked onto place this week—not only the putting but the long game, the iron play and around the greens. It was great to see it all come together at the same time.”
McIlroy, who will turn 29 on May 4 and makes his fourth bid to complete the Career Grand Slam in three weeks at the Masters, finished at 18-under 270.
DeChambeau, from Clovis, sank a 16-foot eagle on the 16th hole and was solo second after a 68, followed four shots behind in third by fifth-ranked Justin Rose of England, who carded a bogey-free 67.
Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who led most of the way after an opening 64, slid to five strokes back in fourth with a 71.
Woods, gunning for his first victory since winning five times in 2013 and playing in his fifth official event since a fourth back surgery, was within one stroke of the lead before hitting his drive out of bounds on the 16th hole, leading to the first of two straight bogeys.
By sinking a 12-foot par putt on the last hole, Woods finished at 69 to wind up eight down in a tie for fifth with Ryan Moore, who had a 71.
“I just didn’t commit to the shot (at No. 16), bailed out and hit a bad shot,” said Woods, who has won the tournament a record eight times. “It’s an easy hole and I figured I needed to finish with three straight birdies to have a chance for a playoff, but the Rory was playing it wouldn’t have mattered.
“But I made a lot of nice putts and felt good out there. I thought I played better than last week (when he tied for second in the Valspar Championship). … I can still get better, but I’m getting there.”
Defending champion Marc Leishman of Australia finished at 67 to wind up 10 back in tie for seventh with Kevin Chappell of Fresno and UCLA, who also shot 67, Luke List (68), Patrick Rodgers of Stanford (69), Sean O’Hair (68) and Patrick Reed (71).
Seventh-ranked Rickie Fowler of Murrieta skidded to a tie for 14th with a 74, 10th-ranked Jason Day of Australia shot 72 to tie for 22nd, and sixth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, coming back from an injury, tied for 49th with a 74.
For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html.