PALM BEACH GARDENS: Rory McIlroy (pictured) won the US PGA Tour’s Honda Classic on Sunday, holding off a hard-charging Tiger Woods to claim golf’s world number one ranking.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy carded a one-under par 69 for 12-under 268, keeping his nerve after Woods — who started the day nine adrift — surged to the clubhouse lead with an eight-under par 62 that eventually left the 14-time major champion tied for second place with Tom Gillis on 10-under 270.
Woods, the former world number one who hasn’t won a tour level event in more than two years, delivered the lowest final round of his career, firing two eagles and four birdies without a bogey to put the heat on McIlroy.
His birdie-eagle finish briefly moved him within one shot of McIlroy, who promptly responded with the second of his two birdies by sinking an eight-footer at the 13th hole. McIlroy made a series of clutch par saves, and with a two-shot lead at the 18th tee laid up for a textbook par at the par-five finishing hole.
The victory that will see him supplant England’s Luke Donald at the top when the new rankings are announced.
At 22 years old, McIlroy became the second-youngest player, behind Woods, to claim the number one ranking. Woods was 21 when he first reached number one, after the 1997 US Open.
“It was tough today, especially seeing Tiger make a charge,” McIlroy said. “I knew par golf would probably be good enough today, that’s what I was trying to do… I was just able to get the job done.”
Woods was in sole possession of second place until Gillis, a journeyman who began the round tied for second two shots back, birdied the final hole to join him on 270.
McIlroy earned the fifth official victory of his career. Three of those are US PGA Tour victories, including his record-setting US Open triumph at Congressional last year. Two others came on the European Tour.
Since the PGA Championship last August McIlroy has finished outside the top five just once, when he was ill at the Dubai World Championship in December.
He had to call on all his reserves this time.
At the 14th, McIlroy fired a wedge out of deep rough to leave himself a four-footer for par.
At the par-three 15th he had to blast out of a bunker toward the water, rolling it to six feet and making that for par.
He got up and down for par from a bunker at the par-three 17th.
“My short game all week has been very good, and it’s what you need on a tough golf course like this,” said McIlroy, who hugged his father, Gerry, as he walked off the 18th green.
His parents are staying with him in Florida through the Masters in April, when McIlroy figures to be among the contenders in the first major of 2012.
Woods, chasing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles, could well be among those contenders also if he maintains the form he showed Sunday.
After an eagle and two birdies on the front nine, Woods birdied the par-four 11th.
He rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at 17 then belted his tee shot at 18 to leave himself a five-iron into the green. He stuck it eight feet from the pin and made it, drawing a roar from the gallery.
Woods’s total of 270 was his lowest 72-hole total since a 265 at the 2009 BMW Championship — his last US PGA Tour victory.
Later that year he was embroiled in a sex scandal that eventually led to his divorce. His return to form since then has been slowed by injury and his struggles with a re-tooled swing.
“To me, it was the old Tiger back, the guy that I remember,” said South African Ernie Els, who played with Woods. “He never missed a shot or made a bad swing.”