Golf

5 things we learned from Honda Classic

Robert Lusetich recaps the thrilling final round at the Honda Classic.
Robert Lusetich recaps the thrilling final round at the Honda Classic.
GolfWeek RYAN LAVNER
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA.

Five things you need to know from the final round of the Honda Classic:

1. THE NEW KING: Now that’s the kind of performance you’d expect from a World No. 1. Needing to make more pars than birdies on a blustery day in south Florida, Rory McIlroy steadied himself by making two clutch sand saves in the last four holes to win the Honda Classic by two shots. With the victory, the 22-year-old Northern Irishman will ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, becoming the youngest player since Tiger Woods (age 21 in 1997) to reach the top spot in the world ranking.

“Every win is very special, but this one, with what could happen after today, it meant a lot to go out there and produce the golf I needed to to get the job done,” said McIlroy, who earned his third PGA Tour title. He shot 12-under 268 (66-67-66-69) at PGA National to top a resurgent Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be World No. 1, the best player in the world. I didn’t know that I’d be able to get here this quickly.”

McIlroy entered the final round two shots clear of Gillis and rookie Harris English, poised with another opportunity to reach World No. 1. Last week, at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, McIlroy lost to Hunter Mahan in the championship match. He has finished inside the top 5 in 10 of his past 11 starts worldwide, a streak dating to the 2011 PGA.

Up next for the new No. 1 player in the world? A flight to New York City to see girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, herself a former World No. 1, in tennis. “It might be a late one tonight,” he said, smiling.

2. NOW IS HE BACK? On the verge of being relegated to an opening act in his new-hometown event, Woods authored the best final round of his career to make a run at his first official PGA Tour title in nearly 2 1/2 years. He eagled two par 5s, including the watery 18th, on his way to a bogey-free 62 and a tie for second, two shots behind McIlroy.

“This was a good day,” Woods said. “I really didn’t miss many shots today.”

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Entering the day nine shots behind McIlroy, Woods made things interesting with an eagle on the par-5 third and turned in 31. After missing makeable birdie putts on Nos. 13 and 14, Woods buried a 25-footer on 17, then sank an 8-foot eagle putt on 18.

For the day, he hit 11 fairways, 14 greens and needed 26 putts. The runner-up finish was his best result in a PGA Tour event since the 2009 Tour Championship.

“I’ve just got to stick with the process; it’s coming,” Woods said. “Each tournament, I’ve progressively gotten better. It’s just a matter of putting it together for an entire tournament.”

3. OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Tom Gillis had plenty of experience on the Champion Course at PGA National . . . from his time spent on the developmental Gateway Tour. This week, he switched shafts in his irons midway through a practice round. He described himself as the “prototypical journeyman.”

Yet Gillis, 43, still earned the largest paycheck of his career ($501,600) Sunday after grinding out a final-round 69.

“I just kept trying to hang in there and keep trying to put as much pressure on him as I could,” Gillis said of playing Rory McIlroy, “but he answered the bell.”

Before this week, Gillis had never held a 36-hole lead on tour, let alone played in the final group on Sunday. Gillis witnessed a historic moment, though, with McIlroy climbing to the top spot in the world order.

Said Gillis: “I think any time you get in there and butt heads with the top players in the world, it’s good for you.”

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4. BLOWN AWAY: Weather figured to play a prominent role in Sunday’s final round at PGA National. The wind was up (30 mph). The temperatures were down (mid-60s). At one point, the rain was coming down sideways. But after a roughly two-hour delay — the leaders had not yet teed off — the conditions didn’t play as much of a factor as anticipated.

“If we had the same wind those guys had going out early, the first few groups, I think the scores wouldn’t have been as good as they were,” Woods said. “It was just blowing too hard and gusting too much. But it was consistent today in the strength, but it was just angling a little bit different.”

5. SHORT SHOTS: Lost in McIlroy’s victory and Woods' resurgence was the 7-under 63 that World No. 3 Lee Westwood fired Sunday. It was the third-lowest score of the week, behind only Brian Harman (61 on Friday) and Woods (62 on Sunday). . . . Tour rookie Harris English, in the final group for the first time in his career, made three double bogeys on his way to a final-round 77 to fall out of the top 10. He tied for 18th. . . . Defending champion Rory Sabbatini tied for 62nd. . . . Rickie Fowler recorded his first top-10 finish of the season with a T-7 at the Honda. . . . Davis Love III, who made his 500th official cut this week on the tour, tied for 21st.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Rory Sabbatini, Harris English, Rory McIlroy, Tom Gillis

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