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By: Dan Kilbridge | March 18, 2018 9:53 pm
ORLANDO – Rory McIlroy’s homeland is known for its whiskey, but Arnold Palmer drank vodka. So the 28-year-old from Northern Ireland raised a clear glass following his post-round interviews at Bay Hill and gave a brief toast.
“To Arnie,” McIlroy said.
Not long before that, McIlroy downed a 25-foot putt to secure his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with an 18-under, 270 total for the week. He shot 8-under 64 in the final round and birdied five of his final six holes to top Bryson DeChambeau by three strokes and win for the first time since the 2016 Tour Championship.
“I wish (Palmer) would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green there,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played on the back nine and tried to be as aggressive as I could and tried to take on shots when I needed to, just like he would have.”
With recent wins from Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas, and Tiger Woods’ promising return, it seemed McIlroy was trying to prove a point, reminding everyone that he’s still very much in the mix with the Masters just three weeks away.
“Look, most of these guys are my friends, so I’m happy for them,” McIlroy said. “JT’s been on a tear the last 18 months. Phil, it was great for him to get the win in Mexico. Tiger coming back. I’m happy to answer those questions. I just hope they get some questions about me now.”
McIlroy began the day two shots behind 54-hole leader Henrik Stenson, who finished fourth at 13 under after shooting 1-under 71 in the final round. Justin Rose finished solo third at 14 under, and Woods was T-5 at 10 under.
Woods shot 3-under 69 and briefly got within one shot of the lead after a birdie at 13. But he faltered late with bogeys on two of his final three holes. That makes three consecutive top-12 finishes for Woods after a T-2 at the Valspar Championship and T-12 at the Honda Classic.
“If you would have (told) me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” Woods said.
McIlroy, Woods, Mickelson, Thomas – all of the big names seem to be peaking in mid-March to set up the most anticipated Masters in recent memory. Even two-time champion Bubba Watson won last month’s Genesis Open after a miserable 2017.
Here’s another reminder – McIlroy is the only one who can complete the career Grand Slam when he heads to Augusta National, with other current hopefuls Mickelson and Jordan Spieth having to wait for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, respectively.
“I’m in a position where I can join that club and I would love to,” McIlroy said. “Golf’s in a great place. … I feel like it’s exciting times.”
Cheers to that. Gwk
By: Dan Kilbridge | March 11, 2018 8:49 pm
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Paul Casey.
Paul Casey won the Valspar Championship.
That was the answer to the question posed by the 50-something man riding a bicycle, circling the exterior of a massive fence that surrounds the players’ parking lot a short golf cart ride away from the first tee at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course.
“But Tiger finished second, right?”
The man was trying to get an autograph and catch a glimpse of Woods as he left the property, oblivious to the fact that Casey finished off a 6-under 65 nearly an hour prior to win for the first time on the PGA Tour since the 2009 Shell Houston Open.
The man wasn’t alone, nor was he the only one fixated on Woods this week while 143 other guys quietly went about their business. Even the 40-year-old Englishman who shot 10-under 274 on the week said if he didn’t win, he was hoping to see Woods finish on top.
“We’ve been friends and competitors for a long, long time,” Casey said. “It’s the only time he’s congratulated me immediately after a victory. Normally it’s the other way around. That’s something special.”
The PGA Tour has produced back-to-back winners in their 40s. Phil Mickelson was victorious at last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship at age 47, and Woods, 42, finished T-2 at the Valspar alongside Patrick Reed at 9 under.
Young stars such as Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm dominated the landscape for much of 2017, but 2018 has had more variety with Woods’ resurgence and Mickelson’s steady play.
“It’s becoming a young man’s sport,” Casey said. “So it’s very rewarding to be able to go up against the young guys and still beat them and still compete with them.”
Reed shot 3-under 68 in the final round to finish T-2 but made bogey at 18 to miss forcing a playoff. Sergio Garcia matched Casey’s final-round 65 to finish alone in fourth, and Corey Conners, the 54-hole leader, shot 6-over 77 to finish T-16.
All of them were playing to modest-at-best crowds, because the fans go where Woods goes and they desperately wanted to witness the trademark Sunday magic when he began the final round firmly in the hunt.
Woods delivered with a theatrical 44-foot birdie putt at No. 17 to get within a shot of the lead, but he missed several significantly shorter birdie attempts in the prior 15 holes and wasn’t quite as sharp with his iron play. He shot 1-under 70 Sunday, his sixth consecutive round of par or better.
This was a huge week for Woods to test his new swing under final-round pressure and remember how it feels trying to close out a win, something he hasn’t done on Tour since 2013.
“I felt very comfortable,” Woods said. “I’ve been here (in this situation) before a few times. So I felt very comfortable. My game was quite solid this entire week. As a whole I feel very good about what I did this week.”
Woods heads to the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week at Bay Hill in Orlando, where he’s won eight times. His reputation and presence will transcend the tournament, as it were, just as it did at the Valspar. Perhaps more so now that everyone has seen a man who at least resembles the Woods of old.
Casey, a 13-time winner on the European Tour, is flying back to England after just his second career PGA Tour victory. He spoke about the buzz Woods brought to the tournament, the vintage roars he heard throughout the week and the quality golf he played for four consecutive rounds to finish on top.
“Probably not the most significant win of my career,” Casey said. “But it’s certainly one of the most satisfying ones.” Gwk
13 hours ago
Phil Mickelson edged out Justin Thomas in sudden death at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Sunday, earning his first win in more than four-and-a-half years. That he won, however, is secondary. Victory or not, Mickelson’s display was theater of the highest degree.
Despite the Club de Golf Chapultepec demanding accuracy off the tee, Mickelson explored parts of Mexico that Coronado failed to discover. He hit fans, routinely short-sided himself and bogeyed one of the course’s easiest holes … you know, the general Mickelson repertoire. And yet his irons and wedges were magical, always managing to save him from tree limbs, patchy rough and galleries. Like Julius Erving with dunking, Mickelson has transformed scrambling from an act to an art form.
Better yet, his putting, historically uneven but solid thus far in 2018, continued to be stellar. He was in total control on the greens, dropping his share of bombs, yes, but more importantly taking care of the testy ones from six feet and in. If you’re wondering how one ranked 131st in strokes gained/off-the-tee has been one of this season’s most consistent players, look no further than his flat stick.
Of course, the mention of his play fails to encapsulate Mickelson’s performance, in every sense of the word. On Saturday, Mickelson inadvertently blew off 36-hole leader Shubhankar Sharma thinking he was a reporter. Cameras caught him telling fans he signs autographs after rounds … in fluent Spanish. Before play on Sunday, he asked Tyrrell Hatton, far from a stranger to golf’s biggest stages, how he pronounces his name. And during the final round, he aided Sharma on a ruling involving a drop, and gave more thumbs-up than a mother liking her children’s Facebook posts.
It was a stage for Mickelson’s goofiness, daring, vulnerability, talent, hubris and engagement. If one was forced to explain the Phil Mickelson Experience to the uninitiated, this weekend would serve as a proper “Best Of” montage.
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