Rory McIlroy said he played a “perfect round of golf” after scooping his first victory in 18 months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – and admitted he had missed the feeling of chasing a win.
The 28-year-old carded a majestic final round of 64 at Bay Hill, reeling off five birdies on the final six holes to finish on 18 under par.
It put him three shots ahead of his nearest rival Bryson DeChambeau, and ensured he will be among the leading contenders at next month’s Masters.
The Northern Irishman told Sky Sports golf: “I played a perfect round of golf.
“It was awesome to feel the buzz of being somewhere around the lead going into the back nine and reeling off those four birdies in a row.
“I’ve missed it, I really have missed it, and to play the sort of golf that I played today under that pressure, I’m really proud of myself and just so happy to win.”
A particularly impressive 18th hole saw McIlroy hole a putt from more than 25 feet – prompting him to raise his arms aloft in celebration.
Paying tribute to the tournament’s namesake, he said: “To be able to create my own little piece of history on the 18th green here was pretty special.
“I’m just so happy to be back in the winner’s circle again and win a tournament that has Arnold Palmer’s name on it, someone that means so much to us in the game of golf.”
McIlroy’s last victory came in September 2016 when he won the FedEx Cup. There he had carded a final round of 64 – on the same day that Arnold Palmer died.
In his post-tournament press conference he said: “For me to get my next win here, it means a lot. I’ve had quite a connection with Arnold Palmer.
“He was always so nice to me – I’ve got so many letters from him from wins. I wish he would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green, but hopefully he is proud of me with the way I played that back nine.
“I tried to be as aggressive as I could and tried to take on shots when I needed to just like he would have. It’s sort of come full-circle since that day in September 2016. I’m just proud to be sitting up here and to have my name on that trophy.”
Jack Nicklaus congratulated McIlroy on Twitter – and said Palmer would have been “very proud”.
He said: “You had been struggling – by your standards – but no longer. You were swinging & playing beautifully this week. And obviously the putter was working very well. I am so pleased to see you win at my old friend @arnoldpalmer’s Bay Hill.”
He added: “AP would’ve been very proud & loved to greet you on 18. I offer an AP thumbs-up & wink on job well done.”
Tiger Woods was briefly in contention for the second successive Sunday after three birdies in the space of four holes immediately after the turn, but his challenge faded with bogeys at the 16th and 17th, and he finished in a share of fifth.
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