McIlroy holds off Tiger, goes to No. 1

Rory McIlroy won the Honda Classic with a performance worthy of

the new No. 1 player in golf.

Right when it looked as though McIlroy had no serious challenge

Sunday, Tiger Woods put some color into that red shirt with a

birdie-eagle finish for a 62 – his lowest final round ever – to get

within one shot of the lead.

McIlroy could hear the roar from the farthest corner of PGA

National, and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland responded with

some clutch golf of his own. He made an 8-foot birdie putt, and

then made three clutch par saves during a daunting stretch at PGA

National.

He played it safe with a two-shot lead on the par-5 18th and

made par to close with a 1-under 69 and the victory he needed to

replace Luke Donald atop the world ranking that will be published

Monday.

”It was tough today, especially seeing Tiger make a charge,”

McIlroy said. ”I knew par golf would probably be good enough. To

shoot 1 under in these conditions, when you go into the round with

the lead, is very nice. And I was just able to get the job

done.”

McIlroy is the 16th player to be No. 1 in the world, and the

second-youngest behind Woods, who was 21 when he first went to No.

1 after the 1997 U.S. Open.

Donald responded quickly to the victory, tweeting ”Congrats

(at)McIlroyRory enjoy the view!”

Woods made two eagles in the final round and wound up two shots

behind, along with Tom Gillis, who birdied the last hole for a

69.

McIlroy, who finished on 12-under 268, won for the fifth time in

his career. Three of those are on the PGA Tour, including his

record-setting victory in the U.S. Open last summer at

Congressional.

He has finished out of the top five only once since the PGA

Championship last August.

”There’s very few players as good at him at his age out there

winning tournaments,” three-time major champion Padraig Harrington

said. ”There are guys with potential, but he’s already delivered.

And he has a good balance in his life. He doesn’t look like a guy

who is going to burn out. He looks like he’s going to be here for a

while.”

McIlroy shared a big hug with his father, Gerry, as he walked

off the 18th green. His parents have come over from Holywood to

stay with him in south Florida through the Masters, where McIlroy

figures to be a top favorite.

After a Sunday like this, no one will be quick to rule out

Woods.

He was nine shots behind going into the final round, and even a

31 on the front nine in blustery conditions left him five shots

behind McIlroy. But the finish – especially that 5-iron into the

18th green – was vintage Woods, and it at least gave him a

chance.

”To me, it was the old Tiger back, the guy that I remember,”

said Ernie Els, who played alongside him. ”He never missed a shot

or made a bad swing.”

Lee Westwood, playing two groups ahead of Woods, closed with a

63 to finish alone in fourth.

”It was a lot of fun out there,” Graeme McDowell said. ”It

was just roars going up all over the golf course. ”For Rory to go

out today with a two-shot lead and have Tiger shoot 62 on him and

Westwood shoot 63, it just shows how hard it is to win golf

tournaments on any tour in the world, but especially this tour.

”This golf season just got a lot more spicy.”

McIlroy wasn’t at this best on the front nine, though he did

what the best players tend to do by turning a suspect round into a

decent score. Despite having only two reasonable birdie chances on

the front nine – he made one of them – McIlroy saved himself with a

pair of par putts from 12 feet and another one from 8 feet.

No one looked capable of catching him.

Woods was still five shots behind until a finish that served as

a reminder why this guy can’t be counted out – not at PGA National,

certainly not with the Masters around the corner.

”I figured I had to go birdie-birdie to have a chance,” Woods

said.

He did one better.

First, Woods dropped a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole,

followed by a big tee shot on an aggressive line that left him a

5-iron into the par-5 18th, with the pin tucked over a bunker to

the right side of the green near the water. Woods said it reminded

him of his famous shot on the 18th at Glen Abbey in the 2000

Canadian Open, a 6-iron out of a bunker and over the water to a

tight pin.

This one cleared the sand and settled 8 feet away, and Woods

swept his fist when it dropped for eagle.

He finished at 270, his lowest 72-hole score since he had a 265

at the 2009 BMW Championship, his last PGA Tour win.

The roar from thousands of fans down the 18th fairway could be

heard at every corner of PGA National, yet it didn’t rattle

McIlroy. Moments later, he holed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th

to build his lead back to two shots.

From there, it was a matter of hanging on.

With so much emphasis on his swing, the final hour was all about

his will. After making his first birdie on the eighth hole, McIlroy

had a two-shot cushion for most of the final round. But there was

something different about having someone – especially Woods – in

the clubhouse at 10 under, with McIlroy facing six holes and a

shrinking margin of error.

He was 65 feet from the hole in rough so deep he had trouble

finding his ball when McIlroy gouged out a wedge to 4 feet for par.

In the back bunker on the par-3 15th, facing a shot that ran away

from him toward the water, he blasted out to 6 feet and made

another clutch par putt.

His final act was from another bunker on the par-3 17th, and he

saved par again. McIlroy had seven one-putt greens (another was a

birdie from the fringe), and one-putted four of the last six

holes.

”My short game all week has been very good, and it’s what you

need on a tough golf course like this,” McIlroy said. ”I was able

to do that, especially on 15 and 17. I needed to make pars there.

My short game felt good all week, and it definitely saved me

today.”