Rory McIlroy ended an 18-month PGA win drought in sensational fashion Sunday with birdies on five of the last six holes to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Four-time major champion McIlroy outduelled American Bryson DeChambeau and major winners Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson with an amazing putting display on the Bay Hill greens.
“It’s so nice to see everything come together finally,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t that far away. It takes something to click into place. Something clicked into place with my putting obviously.”
McIlroy fired an eight-under par 64 to finish 72 holes on 18-under 270 and defeat DeChambeau by three strokes.
“I’m just proud of myself to hang in there over the past few months with injury and everything,” McIlroy said. “To get my first PGA win in I don’t know how long, it feels really great.”
The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland took his 14th US PGA Tour triumph, his first since the 2016 Tour Championship, and served notice he is a solid threat to complete a career major Grand Slam by winning the Masters in three weeks.
McIlroy had not won since the day Palmer died in 2016 but snapped his skid on the course where Palmer used to greet winners as they exited the 18th green.
“It’s a little bit ironic that I come here and win,” McIlroy said. “He set a great example to all of us players. If all of us could handle ourselves the way Arnie did the world would be a better place.
“I wish I walked up that hill to get a handshake from him but I’m so glad to put my name on that trophy.”
DeChambeau fired a closing 68 to take second on 273, one stroke ahead of England’s Rose, who fired a 67, and two in front of Sweden’s Stenson with Woods and US compatriot Ryan Moore fifth on 278.
McIlroy chip-in beauty
McIlroy sank a 15-foot birdie putt at 13 and followed with a 21-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th to seize a two-stroke lead at 15-under.
“That gave me a lot of momentum coming in after not getting a birdie on the par-5 12th,” McIlroy said.
Stenson and DeChambeau each birdied 13 to pull within one shot, but McIlroy answered with a 40-foot birdie chip from off the 15th green for his third birdie in a row and two-putted from 21 feet for birdie at the par-5 16th to seize a three-stroke advantage.
“To be able to chip in, that was a bonus and gave me a little leeway going into the last few holes,” McIlroy said.
Of his approach at 16, McIlroy added, “This was massive, probably the best drive I hit all week.”
DeChambeau sank a 15-foot eagle putt to pull one stroke behind McIlroy only to have the European star sink a 25-footer for birdie, raising his arms in victory.
McIlroy charged into a share of the lead early, opening with five pars before making back-to-back clutch birdie putts, a 10-footer at the sixth and 12-footer at the par-3 seventh.
Another 10-foot birdie at the ninth left McIlroy on 13-under with Stenson after the Swede made bogey at eight, missing the green on his approach and botching a six-foot par putt to set up the back-nine battle.
Woods, making his second comeback bid after four back operations, chased his first victory since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.
The 14-time major champion, mired in the longest win drought of his career, has shown form in back-to-back weeks to excite fans for his chances at the Masters, which begins April 5.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Woods said. “I hit the ball a little better than I did last week. I felt like I putted well the entire week.”
Woods, wearing his trademark red shirt and black pants, managed his 10th consecutive PGA par-or-better round, his longest such streak in six years.
Costly Woods ‘bail-out’ at 16
Woods began the back nine with his fourth birdie of the day as an electric atmosphere built around the Orlando course where he owns eight titles.
At 12, Woods blasted from a bunker to four feet and sank the birdie putt, then made a 14-foot birdie putt at 13 to pull one shy of the lead.
But Woods blasted his tee shot at the 16th out of bounds left and made bogey on the course’s easiest hole.
“I didn’t decide what I was going to do,” Woods said. “I had three different shots. I didn’t commit to it, bailed out on it. It’s on me.”
Woods made a bogey at 17 and closed with a 12-foot par putt.