Rory McIlroy was disappointed to three-putt the last but pleased his game is moving in the right direction with just 17 days to go before the start of the Masters.
The world No 3 began the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational five strokes behind leaders Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman on six-under-par following a seven-under 65 in Saturday’s third round at Bay Hill.
But he didn’t stop there and went to the last on 10-under par, just a shot behind eventual winner Marc Leishman.
The Australia eagled the 16th to snatch the lead on 11-under, then got up and down for pars at the last two holes for a 69 and for a one shot won over Hoffman and Kisner and his second PGA Tour win.
Having missed an 18 footer for a two at the 17th, McIlroy felt he needed a birdie at the 18th for a five-under 67 that would have given him a share of the lead on 11-under-par.
But he raced his slick 30-foot birdie chance eight feet past and missed the return, tapping in for a three-under 69 that relegated him to a share of fourth with Tyrrell Hatton (71) on nine-under par.
Having opened with rounds of 74 and 71 to find himself 11 shots behind Hoffman at halfway, McIlroy was happy to make 14 birdies over the weekend.
“Conditions were tough, the greens got firm and the wind was up but I thought going out if I could shoot anything in the 60s it would be a good score,” said McIlroy.
“I was trying to shoot a couple lower than that but overall I played well. I am pleased with how it went this weekend.
“I saw Leishman eagle 16 and felt I needed to birdie the last hole and I was overly aggressive with the putt and missed the one coming back.
“But it has been a good week and if anything, to be one over after two rounds and finish like this, I can’t complain too much.
“It would have been nice to give it a better go with the chances I had on 17 and 18. But hopefully I can get back up on the horse next week and get it going at the [WGC Dell Technologies] Match Play.”
McIlroy birdied the first and followed a bogey at the third with biride fours at the fourth and sixth to get to within four of the lead.
He bogeyed the par-three seventh but hit two huge drives to set up birdies at the ninth and 10th — he hit seven 300 yards plus on the final day — then followed a bogey at the 14th by almost chipping in for eagle at the 16th. A birdie there put him in a three-way tie for the lead on 10-under par with Hoffman and Kisner before Leishman holed a 50 footer for an eagle three at the 16th to catch all three by surprise and move clear on 11-under-par.
McIlroy can be pleased with his form after missing seven weeks of the season with a rib injury following his playoff defeat in the South African Open in January.
And he’s looking forward to getting the win he needs in this week’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good,” he said. “I had a second in South Africa at the start of the year, then a seventh in Mexico where I was playing in the final group for the last two days. And here I’m going to finish Top-5 or whatever it is, so it’s been good.
“I haven’t had the win that I’ve wanted, but it’s been good consistent play and that hopefully bodes well for the year ahead.”
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