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Tuesday 21 August 2018

The loud Ror' of a world beater

RORY McIlroy propelled himself to the golfing summit last night with a display befitting the No1 player in the sport.

Sinking a series of pressure putts exactly when he needed to, the Ulsterman won the Honda Classic with a 69 to claim the top spot for the first time in his extraordinary career.

And how poetic that he should have done so on the day that Tiger Woods, the man who made the world No1 ranking his own, surged back into the headlines with a fabulous final-round 62.

"Enjoy the view," Luke Donald, the man whom McIlroy deposed in Florida, told his successor.

You expect the 22-year-old will do precisely that.

On an evening when it looked as if he would have no genuine challenger, Woods put some vivid colour back into his Sunday red shirt with a birdie-eagle finish to detonate roars all around the PGA National course at Palm Beach Gardens.

McIlroy, though, retained his composure quite brilliantly. He sank an eight-foot birdie putt, before making three critical par saves during the course's most arduous stretch.

He took the conservative approach at the 18th to make the par he required for a fourth straight round in the 60s, ensuring he will usurp Donald when the revised rankings were published this morning.

"It was tough today, especially seeing Tiger make a charge," McIlroy said. "I knew par golf would probably be good enough.

"To shoot one under in these conditions, when you go into the round with the lead, is very nice. And I was just able to get the job done.

"It's very special," he said. "When I was 10 or 11 I was interviewed and said I wanted to be the best player in the world and I wanted to win majors."

McIlroy becomes the 16th player to be world No1, and the second youngest after Woods, who was 21 when he first went to No1 after the 1997 US Open. Woods made two eagles in the final round and finished two shots behind, alongside Tom Gillis.

It was the fifth victory for McIlroy, who reached the clubhouse at 12 under, and his second after his record-setting triumph in the US Open last summer at Congressional. He has been out of the top five only once since the PGA Championship last August.

"There are very few players as good at him at his age out there winning tournaments," three-time major champion Pádraig Harrington said.

"There are guys with potential, but he's already delivered. And he has a good balance in his life. He doesn't look like a guy who is going to

burn out. He looks like he's going to be here for a while."

The Holywood native had a warm embrace with father Gerry as he walked off the 18th green. His parents had flown over from Co Down to stay with him in south Florida until the Masters, where McIlroy looks already to be the favourite. But in the wake of a Sunday such as this, no one will be hasty to discount Woods either.

He was nine shots behind going into the final round, and even a 31 on the front nine in windy conditions left him five shots adrift of McIlroy.

But the denouement -- especially that five-iron into the 18th green -- was classic Woods, and it at least gave him a scent of the win. "To me, it was the old Tiger back, the guy that I remember," said Ernie Els, playing alongside him. "He never missed a shot or made a bad swing."

Lee Westwood, playing two groups ahead of Woods, closed with a 63 to finish alone in fourth. "It was a lot of fun out there," Graeme McDowell said. "It was just roars going up all over the golf course. For Rory to go out today with a two-shot lead and have Tiger shoot 62 on him and Westwood shoot 63, it just shows how hard it is to win golf tournaments on any tour in the world, but especially this tour. This golf season just got a lot more spicy."

McIlroy was not at his most consistent on the front nine, although he channelled his recent habit of turning a scratchy round into a fine score. Despite having only two reasonable birdie chances on the front nine -- he made one of them -- McIlroy saved himself with a pair of par putts from 12 feet and another one from eight.

His decisive act was from a bunker on the par-three 17th, as he saved par. He closed with seven one-putt greens. "My short game all week has been very good, and it's what you need on a tough golf course like this," McIlroy said. "I was able to do that."

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