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Rory McIlroy said he took added satisfaction from withstanding a career-best final round by Tiger Woods to win the U.S. PGA Tour’s Honda Classic and become the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer.
The reigning U.S. Open champion, McIlroy shot a 1-under-par 69 yesterday to finish 12-under for the tournament, two strokes better than Woods and Tom Gillis. McIlroy finished his round with five straight pars after Woods shot an 8-under par 62, the lowest final-round score of his PGA Tour career.
“It was a lot more meaningful,” McIlroy said at a news conference. “The way I won today was great. I just needed to focus on my game and do what I needed to do.”
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland is the first non- American winner in 10 PGA Tour events this season and moves past Luke Donald atop the Official Golf World Ranking.
Woods had four birdies and two eagles, including one at the par-5 18th hole, to come within one shot of the course record set by Brian Harman during the second round.
Woods pumped his fist after sinking the 8-foot eagle putt and doffed his hat to acknowledge the fans cheering his name as he walked off the 18th green. McIlroy at the time was on the 13th hole, where he made a birdie to rebound from his lone bogey of the final round and keep his lead at two strokes.
“I wasn’t really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18,” McIlroy said after his third PGA Tour win. “I heard the huge roar and it definitely wasn’t a birdie roar. It was nice to have that two-shot cushion going into the last five holes after holing that birdie putt.”
McIlroy receives $1.03 million and becomes the second- youngest world No. 1 after Woods, who was 21 years and 5 months when he first ascended to the top spot on June 15, 1997. McIlroy is the 16th different player to reach No. 1.
Woods ranks third in PGA Tour history with 71 career wins, the last of which came in September 2009 at the BMW Championship. That tournament also marked the last time he shot a 62, during the third round.
“I’ve been close to shooting this score, or scores like this,” Woods, 36, told reporters. “And it was just a matter of time before things all fell into place.”
Gillis made a 17-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole to tie Woods for second place, his best career PGA Tour finish. Lee Westwood finished fourth at 8-under par, followed by Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose at 7-under.
McIlroy and Woods will be among those headed to Miami for the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral from March 8-11.
The limited-field event at Doral includes the top 50 players in the world rankings, the top 20 from last year’s European Tour standings, the top 30 in last year’s FedEx Cup standings, and the top 10 from both tours this year.
For those who don’t qualify, the PGA Tour also holds the Puerto Rico Open from March 8-11.
McIlroy said he’ll take three weeks off to prepare for next month’s Masters Tournament, which starts April 5. He’s the 6-1 favorite to win the year’s first major, according to Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sports book.
McIlroy, who blew a four-shot lead in the final round at Augusta National Golf Club last year, said he would “take a lot” from holding off his challengers yesterday.
“The way I managed myself around the golf course, the par saves I needed to make early, I was able to do that,” McIlroy said. “So there’s a lot today that I can take with me. It gives me a little bit of confidence knowing if I get myself in that position again, that I’m able to finish the job off.”
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