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One Fine Day: McIlroy Wins Honda Classic, Captures World No. 1 Ranking

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Vince Lombardi once said, “You’ve got to be smart to be number one in any business.  But more importantly, you’ve got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body.”

And 2012 Honda Classic Champion Rory McIlroy showed Sunday, he has a heart the size of an Irish truck engine.

McIlroy shot a final round 69 (one-under) at PGA National, averted danger through the treacherous Bear Trap, and finished 12-under, 268 overall, to win the Honda Classic by two shots over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis.

The thrilling victory was the 22-year old McIlroy’s third-career PGA Tour victory.  And the triumph also completed the talented young Irishman’s meteoric (and many have said inevitable) ascension up the world golf rankings to the top spot, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Overcome the infamously back-snapping Jack Nicklaus “Bear Trap”, and outrival a rebellious Tiger Woods Sunday rally in the same day?  Not a bad way to become new World No. 1.

“It was tough, especially seeing Tiger make a charge,” said McIlroy.  “I knew par golf would probably be good enough, and to shoot one-under in these conditions, when you go into the round with a lead, is very nice.  I was just able to get the job done,” he said.

However McIlroy’s victory wasn’t quite the foregone conclusion many presumed it would be.  And it certainly didn’t follow preconceived notions of how the final day would play out.

The script was supposed to be McIlroy cruises, Gillis and Harris English wilt, and the rest of field lack the firepower to catch the young U.S. Open Champion.  Film at 11.

Only Tiger didn’t get that memo.

Woods hadn’t played the Honda Classic since he was 17 years old.  He hadn’t carded a bogey-free round on the PGA Tour since the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open.  And earlier in the week Tiger was visibly irritated by the cantankerous exchange with a member of the media who questioned him about an excerpt from Hank Haney’s new tell-all book, “The Big Miss”.

Pile on a towering nine-stroke deficit to start the day Sunday, and well, did anyone really expect to hear even a “meow” out of Woods?  Let alone the return of his legendary roar?

Well Tiger’s roar did return.  In fact, it roared at 2000-like, Tiger-Slam decibel levels.  And from tee to green, Woods was scorching in his Sunday red, and like once-upon-a-time, at his dominating best.

He led the field in driving distance.  His bogey-free, eight-under 61 (four birdies, and two eagles) was the lowest single day score of his PGA Tour career.  And he hit 11 of 14 fairways-in-regulation, 14 of 18 greens-in-regulation, and needed only 26 putts on the green.

“To me, it was the old Tiger back, the guy I remember,” said Ernie Els, who was paired with Tiger on Sunday.  “He never missed a shot or made a bad swing.” Els said.

A resurgent Woods went four-under through the first seven holes, and shaved the McIlroy lead to five strokes at the bend.  And when Tiger finished three-under on the final two holes, including his second eagle of the day at No. 18, he was leader in the clubhouse at 10-under.

Not known to be a leaderboard spectator, McIlroy nevertheless admitted to watching it on Sunday.  “Yeah if you see Woods on the board, obviously you’re going to take note of that.”

Even Nicklaus said during the broadcast, “I’d rather be Tiger at this point,” referring to the obvious and significant pressure McIlroy was feeling in those final five holes, not just to maintain his fragile two-stroke lead with Woods already in the clubhouse, but also with the merciless Bear Trap lying in McIlroy’s path to victory.

And that’s what makes what McIlroy did on Sunday, all the more impressive.

McIlroy didn’t win the Honda Classic because he was driving the ball with his normal superman-like precision and power (he hit only 9 of 14 fairways-in-regulation).  He didn’t win Sunday because of his stellar pinpoint iron play (he hit only 11 of 18 greens in regulation). McIlroy won on Sunday because, like he did all day, especially when he needed it most, he showed a veteran’s poise, an Irishman’s grit, and above all, a champion’s heart.

McIlroy did what a No. 1 player in the world is supposed to do.

McIlroy never gave in to his mistakes, he overcame them.  Need proof?  Every putt McIlroy attempted inside 10-feet, he made.  He carded a ridiculous number, seven, one-putts on the day.  And he was perfect in sand-saves, no. 1 in scrambling.

A tricky par putt on No. 14, was followed by a sliding 10 footer for par on No. 15.  And after yet another par on No. 16, McIlroy’s masterful up and down on No. 17, essentially settled the matter.

On the strength of a gutsy one-under 69 on Sunday, McIlroy was the 2012 Honda Classic Champion.  And the golf world had a its new reigning World No. 1.

Gillis (who considered quitting the tour in 2006) held his own for the better part of the front nine, coming as close as one shot of the McIlroy lead.  But back-to-back bogeys on No. 9 and No. 10,  pushed him four strokes back, and seemed to take away any momentum he had built up to that point.  Gillis’ one-under 69 on the day (10-under overall), was good enough for a tie for second with Woods), his best ever on the PGA Tour.

English, the third player in the final grouping, took his share of rookie lumps on Championship Sunday.  He’ll want to learn from this day certainly, but quickly forget it as well.  A seven-over 77 (three bogeys and three double-bogeys) destroyed any hope English had of contending, leaving him in a disheartening T-18 finish at two-under overall.

Other notable performances on Sunday included Lee Westwood, who finished with a seven-under 63 (5 birdies, eagle, no bogeys), which was the lowest single day score of his career. He finished alone in fourth-place at 8-under.

And Justin Rose, who was in contention until the first leg of the Bear Trap, finished T-5, with an even-par 70 on the day, seven-under overall.  At No. 15, Rose pulled out his 7 iron, hoping grab a share of the lead (at that point being nine-under, just one stroke back of McIlroy).  But his tee shot went right, into the water, and with it went his hopes of winning the Honda Classic.

NOTES:

McIlroy is the second youngest player to achieve the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.

With the win McIlroy climbs to No. 4 in the FedExCup point standings, 120 points behind leader Kyle Stanley.

McIlroy’s other PGA Tour victories include the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, and the 2011 U.S. Open.

Only McIlroy and Gillis carded scores in the 60s for all four rounds at Honda.

Defending Champion Rory Sabbatini finished a disappointing seven-over, 287, T-67 for the tournament, leaving Nicklaus as the only player in Honda Classic history to successfully defend his title.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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10 interesting photos from Tuesday at the Zurich Classic

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana, where, among other things, a giant three-legged crocodile roams.

Now in it’s second year, the tournament’s unique two-man team format has attracted a wealth of top talent, including 10 of the top 14 golfers in the OWGR. We’re on the scene snapping bag pictures and have five galleries from TPC Louisiana’s range Tuesday. We also have a look inside Ryan Ruffels bag, a peek at Jimmy Walker’s putter, a look in Brooks Koepka’s bag, and more!

Let’s dig in.

Well, this certainly is interesting, Xinjun Zhang. Not sure about the context, but not something you traditionally see on a PGA Tour driving range…

Hard not to love Ryan Ruffels’ 009M

Look’s like Michael Greller is enjoying some well-earned relaxation

Ryan Palmer boldly going where few Tour pros dare to: serif font

Roman numeral loft stamping? Savage grind? We like your style, Bud Cauley

Is this a new Wilson Staff PMP wedge prototype or a one-off thing for Ricky Barnes?

Finally, Whitney comes to a wedge

Ham & egg!

Jimmy Walker’s silver Spider

Our Tour Photographer risking the wrath of Bubba (we assume he had permission)

 

Tuesday’s Photos

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Detroit could be getting a PGA Tour event

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As a business based in the Detroit metro area, GolfWRX is happy to hear this: the Motor City could be getting a PGA Tour event.

With the PGA Tour’s 2019-2020 schedule expected in the weeks ahead, the Detroit News reports the Tour could announce (Detroit-based) Quicken Loans will sponsor an event at Detroit Golf Club. The company ceased sponsorship of the former Quicken Loans National in Washington, D.C. last year.

The Detroit News quotes a source with knowledge of the Tour’s scheduling discussions as saying an official announcement is near.

While the Tour, Quicken Loans, and Detroit Golf Club are mum on the matter, Quicken Loans’ statement to the paper last year made clear the company’s intention to bring a tournament to the city.

“As we look to the future, we remain interested in exploring ways to highlight the energy and revitalization taking place in Detroit…A prime golf event, featuring the world’s best players, is certainly something we would be interested in pursuing as a way to showcase our great American city.”

If the Detroit tournament takes the calendar spot of the The National, it would be contested in late June/early July. Additionally, with the PGA Championship’s move to may next year, there’s some speculation the Detroit event could be contested in August.

As mentioned, we know the PGA Championship is moving to May in 2019. Additionally, The Players will move to March, TPC Southwind will take over  WGC hosting duties from Firestone Country Club, and the FedEx Cup Playoffs will wrap before start of football season.

We’ll have to wait (eagerly) for official word on the Detroit event.

 

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2018 Zurich Classic

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards), designed by Pete Dye with consultants Steve Elkington and Kelly Gibson.

The Zurich Classic is a unique event on the PGA Tour because it’s not an individual stroke-play event. Instead, the format consists of two-man teams playing best-ball on Thursday and Saturday, and alternate-shot on Friday and Sunday.

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Last year, Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt won the event after four playoff holes against Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. The Smith/Blixt duo will be back to defend their title, and the Kisner/Brown pairing will be back avenging their loss.

Other notable pairings in the field include Daniel Berger/Gary Woodland, Wesley Bryan/Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay, John Daly/Rory Sabbatini, Jason Day/Ryan Ruffels, David Duval/Jim Furyk, Tony Finau/Daniel Summerhays, Sergio Garcia/Rafa Cabrera Bello, J.B. Holmes/Brand Snedeker, Matt Kuchar/Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel, Sean O’Hair/Jimmy Walker, Pat Perez/Jason Dufner, Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer, Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley and more!

Check out our photos from the event below!

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos in our forums

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