McIlroy falls short in bid to land King Arnie crown
Rory McIlroy will have the consolation of a jump up to second in the world rankings after falling just short in his Sunday surge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament at Bay Hill.
The Holywood star briefly held the tie of the lead yesterday afternoon on 10-under par before a bogey on the last and a eagle three on the 16th from Australian Marc Leishman put the tournament beyond his grasp.
McIlroy made a significant move on Saturday when shooting 65 and zooming 38 places up the leaderboard for tied-eighth place on six-under par, five adrift of overnight joint leaders Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman.
He started yesterday in the same mood as he was out in 34 blows and back in 35 for a 69 and nine-under par, finishing tied for third place with England's Tyrell Hatton, who shot 71.
McIlroy was in the mix right up to the 18th hole, but the win went to Leishman, who got home in 69 for a winning 11-under total.
Leishman knocked Kisner and Hoffman into second place. They each filed 73 for 10-under par.
The turning point was an eagle three by Leishman on the par-five 16th. McIlroy had to hope he could birdie the 18th and that the Aussie would falter on the last couple of holes, but instead, his 20-foot birdie attempt on the last rolled six feet past.
Once McIlroy missed the one back, he knew that was his race run. Afterwards McIlroy spoke to Sky Sports. Considering this was only his third tournament of 2017, he could be happy with his performance, but a champion of his calibre, who gets a sniff of victory, always likes to finish the job.
"Going out today I thought if I shoot anything in the 60s is a good score. I was obviously trying to shoot a couple lower than that, but overall, played well. I'm really pleased with how I went this weekend and can take a lot of positives from it," he said.
Speaking about the final hole birdie attempt, McIlroy knew it was do or die at that stage.
"I saw Leishman eagled 16 and went to 11 (under). I thought I really needed to try and hole it. I was overly aggressive with it and missed the one coming back, but it's been a good week.
"To be one over after two rounds and to come up like this is a great weekend. Can't complain too much."
McIlroy's weekend drive was a suitable tribute to the great man, who had subtly requested the presence of McIlroy at his Invitational tournament in a letter written by 'The King' two days after the Northern Irishman's US Open victory at Congressional in June, 2011.
Typically, Palmer was too humble, and respectful of the demands on the time of the top professionals to employ a 'by Royal Command' edict, or try to pressurise the then 22-year-old golfer to turn up.
He wrote: "I don't know what your playing plans will be for next season, but I hope that you will keep my tournament in mind as you are getting ready for the Masters. We would love to have you at Bay Hill."
Message received, appreciated, and understood from McIlroy's perspective, but almost four years passed before the young prince finally teed it up for the 2015 staging of Palmer's tournament.
Timing is everything, and, like many other top professionals over the last few years, McIlroy was acutely aware that Palmer was well into the back nine of his celebrated journey through life.
That was the reason for prioritising the Invitational in the last few years, and McIlroy is glad he made that decision before Palmer's passing last September at the age of 87.
"Yeah, it is special. I missed it for various reasons at the start of my career, scheduling and playing a little bit more in Europe, but I've made a conscious effort, especially over the last few years," said McIlroy.
"I came up here in 2015 for the first time to play, really because everyone knew Arnold wasn't in great health and I wanted to play before he passed, and to spend a little bit of time with him."
Meanwhile, Orlando resident Graeme McDowell was honoured by the invitation to join the tournament host committee for the week. He had to be content with a supporting role on and off the course, as he closed out the tournament with a 73 for 287 (-1).
Speaking to Sky Sports, McDowell summed up his round: "I didn't hit it very well on the front nine. I kind of had one of those range sessions where I just flushed it on the range and then I got out on the golf course, and I hit it terrible on the front nine.
"Obviously I'd like a few better today, but all in all, it wasn't my best ball striking week, and I'm happy to hang in there at one-under par."