Honda Classic: It's Official! Rory McIlroy Is the New No. 1

Carlos TorresContributor IMarch 4, 2012

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 04:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 4, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy's ascent to the pinnacle of the world golf rankings for the first time is finally complete after his win today at the 2012 Honda Classic.

The 22-year-old golf sensation from Holywood, Northern Ireland, shot a final-round 69 for his total of 12-under for the tournament, two shots ahead of the late-surging Tiger Woods who shot a 62 and had a true chance of getting closer during the back-nine.

Woods finished tied for second place with Tom Gillis, and Lee Westwood finished in solo fourth-place at 8-under.

Rounding the top five were Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose, tied at 7-under.

It was the second straight week McIlroy has had a chance to reach the top of the rankings. Last week, he had a clear shot at the Accenture WGC Match Play Championships, but Hunter Mahan outplayed him in the final match to delay McIlroy's crowning moment.

McIlroy was delayed today as well. The weather forecast for PGA National yesterday called for possible thunderstorms, and McIlroy's final group with Harris English and Tom Gillis started nearly two hours after its scheduled time.

But nothing was going to stand in McIlroy's way today. It was his turn to shine today and claim the crown atop the rankings for the first time in his career.

McIlroy started the day two shots clear on the lead, but seven players were within five shots of the lead, a group that included PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Schwartzel.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 04: Tiger Woods smiles after an eagle on the third  hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 4, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Woods and Westwood were not part of that group, but made the biggest moves of the day with the best rounds at 8-under and 7-under, respectively.

Gillis made an early move when he opened the round with a birdie to move within one of McIlroy. Gillis went bogey-birdie and kept the pressure on McIlroy during the front-nine.

When they reached the par-4 eighth hole, McIlroy landed his 165-yard approach within nine feet of the cup, and made the subsequent putt for the birdie. Right there and then, he sealed the deal for the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

Willis went on to make bogeys in the next two holes, falling from contention.

Woods, meanwhile, had been making an incredible charge on the front-nine. He made an eagle on the par-5 third hole and played the front-nine at four-under, and was at five-under after another birdie on the par-4 11th hole.

Then Woods had birdie putts on the 12th and 13th holes, but missed from 18 and 14 feet, respectively. Those were no easy putts, but they almost went in.

Woods would not make another birdie until the 17th hole, where he made a birdie and then an eagle to finish his round two shots behind McIlroy. All Woods could do is hope McIlroy would unravel in the back-nine and hope for at least a playoff.

But that would not happen.

McIlroy made it interesting by making a bogey on the par-4 12th hole, but bounced back with a birdie on the par-4 13th hole to go back up by two shots.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 03:  Lee Westwood of England hits his tee shot on the third hole during the third round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 3, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

And there was hope for Woods, as there was still the start of PGA National's famous finish at the Bear Trap. Two of the three holes in the Bear Trap —Nos. 15, 16 and 17—were playing as two of the more difficult holes on the golf course this week.

But McIlroy has learned his lesson, and he went on to breeze the final holes. He knew he would give himself the best chance to win by going par the rest of the way, and he did just that.

To the chants of "Rory, Rory, Rory!" McIlroy made the walk to the 18th green, knowing he only had to go two-putt to celebrate his new spot as the new No. 1 in the world.

He made his two putts and made it official that the times of King McIlroy had arrived.

McIlroy becomes the second youngest player ever to become No. 1. At 22 years old, he is a year older than Tiger Woods—who was 21 years, five months and two weeks old—when he first became world No. 1 on June 15, 1997.

How long will this last? Well, at least for a week.

Westwood was also a candidate for the world No. 1 position last week at the Accenture WGC Match Play Championship and lost to McIlroy in the semifinals.

He did not have a shot this week, but depending on what he does, and what McIlroy and Luke Donald do next week, the rankings could change again.

But for now it's safe to say it should still be McIroy. No player has been playing better golf than him since the PGA Championship.

In 11 tournaments since, McIlroy has 10 top-five finishes, including two wins. If there is anyone hotter, please point me in his direction.

McIlroy keeps getting mentally tougher. He is even looking comfortable with the crowds of thousands of fans lining every fairway and surrounding every green.

Donald and Westwood are not going to go down without a fight for sure, and it will be a great show to see how they can bounce back and challenge McIrloy. Oh, and that guy Woods showed he is still around and making some noise as well.

Great times of competition lie ahead in golf, and just next week we have the best of the best face off at the WGC Cadillac Championship.

But for now, it's McIlroy's time, and it might be for the foreseeable future. Hail the new king.


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