This is not Jersey the biggest win
This is not the biggest win of Rory McIlroy’s career but it is without question among the most significant. A day supposedly to confirm Tiger Woods’s status as the returning hero instead belonged to McIlroy, for whom, too, injury frustrations have dogged much of his recent past. McIlroy confirmed his key part in the narrative for the Masters next month.
Victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy’s first tournament success for 18 months, transpired after the kind of rocket-fuelled Sunday which sceptics suggested the Northern Irishman could no longer produce.
McIlroy’s closing 64 meant he won by three at 18 under par; he had started the day two adrift of the lead. Bryson DeChambeau claimed second place, one stroke clear of Justin Rose. Henrik Stenson, the 54-hole leader, was fourth at 13 under. Yet this was McIlroy’s day. Celebrations of his last win, at the Tour Championship in September 2016, were cut short as news circulated of Palmer’s death.
It seemed somehow fitting that McIlroy returned to the winner’s circle – and in such swashbuckling style – at the event presided over by the golfing legend for so many years.
He said he had felt good during his tournaments in the Middle East at the start of the year and added: “I kept telling everyone I was close. Nobody would believe me but I knew it.
“I had a rough patch at the start of the Florida swing but in golf it is never that far away, just as when you are playing well you’re not far away from playing badly. I had a really good weekend of practice after missing the cut last week and it has paid off right away.
“It was awesome to feel the buzz of being around the lead on the back nine. I have missed it, I really have.
“To play the golf I did under that pressure I’m so proud of myself and so happy to get the win. I think I gave myself a chance for birdie on almost every hole. I played a perfect round of golf.”
The trigger for McIlroy’s triumph came with a run of four birdies from the 13th. He was to collect shots at five of the last six holes. At the 15th, having watched an approach shot roll from the green, he chipped in.
His drive at the following hole measured 373 yards. If such power is almost taken for granted, it was McIlroy’s putting – such a problem in recent times – which had markedly improved over the course of four days in Orlando.