Rory McIlroy Picks Up 1st Win of 2018 at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2018

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 18:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to his birdie at the sixth hole during the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 18, 2018 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

With the Masters teeing off in less than a month, Rory McIlroy appears to be finding his groove after collecting his first win of the 2018 PGA Tour season at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Bay Hill, Florida.

McIlroy finished the tournament at 18 under, three shots better than Bryson DeChambeau. Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore rounded out the top five finishers.

Here's a look at the top 10 on the leaderboard, with payouts for each golfer. The full standings are available on ESPN.com:

    

Arnold Palmer Invitational Leaderboard

1. Rory McIlroy (-18); $1,602,000

2. Bryson DeChambeau (-15); $961,200

3. Justin Rose (-14); $605,200

4. Henrik Stenson (-13); $427,200

T5. Tiger Woods (-10); $338,200

T5. Ryan Moore (-10); $338,200

T7. Marc Leishman (-8); $249,942

T7. Kevin Chappell (-8); $249,942

T7. Luke List (-8); $249,942

T7. Sean O'Hair (-8); $249,942

T7. Patrick Rodgers (-8); $249,942

T7. Patrick Reed (-8); $249,942

     

McIlroy saved his best for last, as his eight-under 64 was his lowest single-round score of the tournament. It was also the top score of the day. The 28-year-old was particularly excellent on the back nine, closing with five birdies over the last six holes.

By the time he headed for the clubhouse, McIlroy all but had the title wrapped up. Stenson and Rose ran out of gas the longer the round went on, while DeChambeau needed an eagle on the 18th hole just to force a playoff.

McIlroy owed a lot of success at Bay Hill to his putting, which was in stark contrast to his work on the green the rest of the year.

Entering the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was 124th in strokes gained: putting, according to PGATour.com. Over the course of the tournament, McIlroy led the field in that category, gaining 10.027 strokes. He was second in putts per green in regulation (1.609) as well.

McIlroy wrapped up the Arnold Palmer Invitational by sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 18, which was a fitting conclusion for his event. The PGA Tour shared a replay of his final shot and subsequent celebration:

Although McIlroy has golfed consistently well at Augusta National Golf Club—finishing in the top 10 for four straight years—the green jacket has so far eluded him. The Masters is the only major tournament McIlroy has yet to win.

The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward believes that drought could end based on McIlroy's work at Bay Hill:

After tying for second place at the Valspar Championship a week ago, Woods remained within shouting distance of McIlroy for much of the final round. Back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17, though, ended Woods' hopes of climbing into first place.

The 14-time major champion ended his tournament at 10 under, which was good for a share of fifth place.

ESPN's Trey Wingo saw some positive takeaways from Woods' performance Sunday:

Golf Channel researcher Justin Ray added more context to Woods' recent run:

Golf is unquestionably more enjoyable when Woods is a serious threat at major tournaments. Throw in an in-form McIlroy, and the 2018 Masters is shaping up nicely.

Of course, the biggest question surrounding McIlroy will be whether he can put together four strong rounds at Augusta. Implosions in the third and fourth rounds famously thwarted his quest for a title in 2012, 2013 and 2016.

In terms of pressure, the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational doesn't come close to the last day at the Masters. Still, it's hard not to get excited about McIlroy's victory and what it could mean in the coming weeks.

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