Rory McIlroy is the winner of 2012 Honda Classic after a two-shot victory over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis. With this victory, McIlroy has overtaken Luke Donald as the new number-one ranked player in the world. McIlroy completed all four rounds in the 60’s for 12-under-par 268 to hold off a charge from Tiger Woods, who carded his lowest round ever on Tour on Sunday with 62.
Sunday morning at PGA National was going to start much earlier than scheduled due to impending severe weather on the East Coast of Florida. Tee times were moved up to try and avoid the inclement weather and it looked like we all were in for tape-delayed golf on Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, the weather DID NOT cooperate! Play at Palm Beach Gardens was a few holes old when a weather system moved through the area suspending play. This delay enabled the schedule to revert to the original tee times and making the event live on television as previously scheduled. Who would have wanted to read about this on Twitter instead of watching it develop live? Not me or you. Not after that show.
McIlroy, known for his sweet swing and smooth demeanor, can now add cool-under-fire to his steadily-growing resume that also includes major champion and number-one ranked player in the world. It’s one thing to hold off young Jason Day at Congressional but it’s an entirely different piece of finishing when Tiger Woods is in the rear-view mirror and charging on Sunday.
McIlroy held off Woods and Tom Gillis the old-fashioned way, with his short-game. He led the field in scrambling, getting up 20 out of 24 times throughout the week. None of these up-and-downs were bigger than the ones on 14, 15 and 17 after Woods was safely in the clubhouse at 10-under and McIlroy had a two shot lead. A fantastic pitch from a gnarly lie on 14 was even better after he sank the putt. Bunker shots on 15 and 17 were above average, but the flat stick still had to knock them home. After holing those putts and not dropping any shots, he stood on 18 tee with a two-shot lead over Woods and he had plenty of margin for error, if necessary.
He didn’t need any of it as his final tee shot split the fairway on the par-five and he cruised home to victory. McIlroy finished the week fifth in strokes gained-putting on top his scrambling numbers. Not bad after he was near the bottom of the scrambling stats last week in his runner-up finish at WGC-Match Play.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
Rory McIlroy began the day with a two-shot lead over journeyman Tom Gillis and rookie Harris English and a nine-shot lead over an up-and-down Tiger Woods. As we’ve learned this year on Tour, no lead is safe on Sundays.
Yet, Rory McIlroy is not Kyle Stanley. Nor is he Spencer Levin, Charlie Wi, Keegan Bradley or Daniel Summerhays. Heck, he’s not even Phil Mickelson, at least not yet. McIlroy did today what those golfers could not do earlier in the year: Close out and win after leading after 54 holes.
Last year, Rory McIlroy played “The Bear Trap” seven-over on Saturday. Yes, seven-over in three holes in one round.
What a difference a year makes. This week, he played the “The Bear Trap” three-under for the week and even on the day when it counted the most, Sunday. He could have easily remembered that experience on Saturday or Sunday of this year but he didn’t. That’s mental toughness.
Are there any other tournaments that McIlroy didn’t play so well last year? If so, I’ll take him to win on those tracks in 2012. What’s that? The Masters where he blew a four-shot lead on Sunday and shot 80? I understand this was not a major, but when Tiger Woods is breathing down your neck with 62, bad thoughts can creep into your head. Jack Nicklaus remarked on the telecast, as McIlroy entered “The Bear Trap”, that he would prefer to be in Tiger’s shoes at that moment in the round. Yikes.
Hey, becoming number one in the world shouldn’t’ be easy and it wasn’t. What started last summer at Congressional has blossomed into fantastic golf over the last nine months. He took the mantle by playing flawless golf this week, Tiger Woods or no Tiger Woods. Speaking of Tiger Woods, McIlroy becomes the second-youngest player ever at 22 years to be ranked number one. Tiger Woods was 21 years old.
At least I gave you folks a winner this week after last week’s disaster. Thanks for reading as always.
Young Guns vs Old Guns
In 10 tournaments this season, the Young versus Old argument is now 7-2-1.
For the young, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29) and now Rory McIlroy (22) lead the way for the Young guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is in the middle, a half-point for each.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the old folks on Tour.
This is also the first victory for the rest of the world this season on Tour. U.S. players had won the first nine events. Not a bad start though!
One other note for gamers: This is the fifth-straight year at The Honda Classic that an international player has won. McIlroy joins Yang, Els, Villegas and Sabbatini as winners since 2008 at PGA National. Mark Wilson is the only U.S. player to win (2007) since the tournament moved there.