March 19, 2018: The only thing Rory McIlroy could not do on Sunday was to feel the warmth from an Arnold Palmer handshake. After all, that isn’t humanly possible anymore. McIlroy took pretty much everything else at the Bay Hill Golf Club & Lodge, playing supreme Sunday golf. The champion golfer produced a scintillating 8-under 64 including a run of five birdies on the last six holes.
McIlroy earned himself a three-stroke victory over Bryson DeChambeau, who was second best at 15-under 273.
“I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him,” McIlroy said. “But I’m so happy to put my name on that trophy.” Incidentally, it McIlroy’s first victory since winning the Tour Championship on the day King departed, September 25, 2016.
As the tournament reached its final stretch, the air of anticipation grew thicker around the course in Orlando. Tiger Woods, the man of the moment again, was giving it a go – racking three birdies in four holes to inch within a stroke of the lead.
Unexpectedly though, Woods grew tentative on the 16th tee. He mistimed his drive out of bounds and the wheels came off what promised to be a riveting chase. Woods settled for a 69 and tied fifth.
McIlroy set the tone for a pulsating finish drawing clear from a bunch of five men, the scent of blood on their nostrils, lurking just one adrift at that stage. But even as Woods suffered a late stumble, DeChambeau, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were left panting for breath, as McIlroy raced away to the finish line.
It was majestic stuff. The crowd may have been pulling for Woods, but with McIlroy turning even his best competitors into spectators the chorus just fell silent.
After an injury-plagued season and a missed cut in the Valspar Championship, the turnaround has been swift for McIlroy. With Stenson ahead by two and Rose for company, McIlroy turned in a masterclass that scripted its own chapter into the growing legacy of this wonderful tournament.
McIlroy signed the last page of this new chapter with a sensational 25-foot birdie putt at the final hole, so reminiscent of Woods himself.
“I’ve seen Tiger make that enough times to know what it does,” admitted McIlroy. “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.”
Woods himself left feeling satiated at the progress he is making. Eleven of his past twelve rounds have been under par, with five of the last seven inside the 60s.
“If you (had told) 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 heartbeat,” Woods told the media.
“The fans gave me all the adrenaline in the world,” he added. The Masters cannot come soon enough to Tiger and his legion of fans. After his victory, even McIlroy fans will feel the same way.
There was a disappointment though for Indian golf fans. Anirban Lahiri endured a difficult week at Bay Hill, made worse by a punishing 78 in the final round. Scores of 73-72-74-78 do no justice to the amount of work Lahiri put in during a lengthy December.
A double bogey at the final hole, the seventh score of bogey or worse on the day, saw Anirban drop his card in with a final score of 9-0ver 297. The 30-year-old is bound to work hard this week in preparation for a good run in Houston next week.