USGA CHAMPIONS
McIlroy Blisters Bay Hill; Park Impresses at Founders Cup March 19, 2018 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Rory McIlroy rediscovered his putting touch, registering just 100 strokes on the greens in winning Arnold Palmer's event by three strokes. (USGA/John Gress)

For several years, Rory McIlroy did not enter the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Resort & Lodge.

But when he finally did play in 2015, McIlroy immediately formed a bond with the tournament host and fellow U.S. Open champion – McIlroy won in 2011 and Palmer in 1960.

Three years after his first Bay Hill start, the 28-year-old now owns a trophy from The King’s tournament, accomplishing the feat with a back-nine charge that would have made Palmer oh so proud.

While most of the roars in Sunday’s final round were for 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, who owns eight victories at Bay Hill and has shown glimpses of his dominating past over the last month, it was McIlroy who stole the show on Sunday. He fired an 8-under-par 64, which included birdies on five of his last six holes, for a three-stroke victory over 2015 U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau.

Woods, a three-time U.S. Open champion, faded from contention after consecutive bogeys on 16 and 17 and tied for fifth. He was coming off a runner-up showing in last week’s Valspar Championship and a tie for 12th in The Honda Classic.

It was McIlroy’s first win since the 2016 Tour Championship, which ended on the same day (Sept. 25) that Palmer died at the age of 87.

“I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him,” said McIlroy after his come-from-behind victory. “But I’m so happy to put my name on that trophy.”

McIlroy, whose wife Erica shares the same birthday as Palmer (Sept. 10), came into the tournament off a missed cut, and he had not broken 72 in his previous six rounds. While at home in South Florida last weekend, he sought out Fox Sports golf analyst and noted putting savant Brad Faxon for some advice.

Something clicked as McIlroy led the field in strokes gained putting, and registered just 100 putts over the four rounds, his lowest total in winning a PGA Tour event.

McIlroy became the third player in the modern era to win 10 PGA Tour events by the age of 26, joining 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus and Woods.

“Rory played incredible golf and it was fun – great to see world-class players do that,” said 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who carded a second consecutive 67 while paired with McIlroy to finish third. “It's not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me. But when he is making putts, he's incredibly hard to beat.”

DeChambeau, who was seeking his second PGA Tour victory, also desperately wanted to win at Bay Hill, having visited Palmer’s Latrobe, Pa., home prior to the 2015 Walker Cup Match as a member of the USA Team. He first played this tournament as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion two years ago and tied for 27th.

“I grew up with my parents having a big affinity for Mr. Palmer,” DeChambeau told Golf Channel after his second-round 66 on Friday. “So when I got a chance to play on the [USA] Palmer Cup Team [in 2014 at Walton Heath in Surrey, England], it was a dream come true for me. Then before the Walker Cup, he was able to invite us up to his place in Latrobe and have dinner with him. That truly meant a lot to me and I will never forget it for the rest of my life.”


DeChambeau, playing in the final pairing with 54-hole leader Henrik Stenson, holed an eagle putt on the par-5 16th to move within one stroke of McIlroy. Needing birdies on his last two holes, DeChambeau just missed from 22 feet on 17, then bogeyed the home hole for a final-round 68.

Not only has Woods won Palmer’s tournament eight times, he also claimed the first of his three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur titles at Bay Hill. On Sunday, he was within a stroke of the leaders until he hit his tee shot on the par-5 16th hole – statistically the easiest on the course – out of bounds. Another bogey on 17 took him out of contention.

Despite the disappointing finish, weekend 69s left Woods tied with three-time USGA champion Ryan Moore for fifth at 10-under 278.

Walk in the Park

In the past two years, two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park has battled a variety of injuries, from her thumb to her back. She did manage to win the 2016 Olympic gold medal following a two-month layoff, but last year, the 29-year-old from the Republic of Korea suffered a back injury in August that sidelined her for the rest of the LPGA Tour season.

Park, who carried the Olympic torch into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies for last month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, got the rest she needed and returned to competition in late February.

Park evoked her tenure as world No. 1 this past weekend at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix, Ariz. A final-round 67 on Sunday at Wildfire Golf Club carried Park to a five-stroke win over 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion Laura Davies, 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Ariya Jutanugarn and Marina Alex.

Davies, 54, was bidding to become the oldest champion in LPGA Tour history. Fighting calf and tendon problems in her left leg, the World Golf Hall of Famer matched Park’s 9-under 63 on Saturday – the two best rounds of the championship – to pull into contention, then added a 67 on Sunday. The showing, her first top 10 on Tour since 2014, should give Davies a boost for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open this July at Chicago Golf Club.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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