Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed set up a mouth-watering repeat of their Ryder Cup showdown as damp conditions failed to prevent fireworks in the 82nd Masters.
And while Reed will start the final day with a three-shot lead on 14 under par, McIlroy will arguably have the momentum in pursuit of the win he needs to complete a career grand slam after a dramatic finish to a roller-coaster third round at Augusta National.
Reed responded to seeing McIlroy erase a five-shot overnight deficit by firing a hat-trick of birdies from the eighth and then making two eagles in the space of three holes on the back nine.
That took the 27-year-old five shots clear once more, but a three-putt bogey on the 16th gave the chasing pack renewed hope and McIlroy took full advantage with a birdie on the last.
TWEET OF THE DAY
To those thinking it’s a two-horse race, Nick Faldo makes reference to his final-round comeback against Greg Norman in 1996.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Phil Mickelson had started with an air-shot and triple-bogey seven on the first, but when faced with an uphill second shot of 270 yards on the eighth, opted to hit a driver off the deck and produced a superb approach which finished just eight feet from the hole.
ROUND OF THE DAY
Overnight leader Reed responded to seeing his five-stroke lead wiped out in eight holes and shot 67 with two eagles, but McIlroy edges it with a 65 which relied on a little bit of luck but some fantastic short game skills to keep it bogey-free.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Manchester United fan Rory McIlroy finds time amid the excitement to check the football scores.
The opening hole played to an average of 4.302, giving up just two birdies and seeing a triple bogey from Phil Mickelson, who had an air-shot after hitting a tree branch on his downswing while attempting a trademark recovery shot.
Patrick Reed made one of the two eagles and Rory McIlroy one of the 27 birdies on the par-five 15th, which played to a scoring average of 4.434 and saw just one player make bogey.
ON THE UP
Rory’s mind-game skills as he was quick to suggest all the pressure would be on Reed in the final round, even though he himself is attempting to win the career grand slam only achieved by five other players.
ON THE SLIDE
Marc Leishman’s prospects of following compatriot Adam Scott in winning the Masters after a third round which featured no birdies, one bogey and 17 pars.
Provided by Press Association Sport
All is well in golf again and the Tiger effect only tells one part of the story.
As much as it is exhilarating for supporters, organisers and advertisers to see an unimpeded Woods on the prowl again, the great man’s return is a bonus in a sport that was beginning to get used to life without him. The return of the Mac, however, carries more importance to the wider game.
Woods’ enforced retirement, at the age of 42, would have been a shame. For Rory McIlroy to have played his best golf by the age of 28 would have been a downright sporting tragedy.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Northern Irishman ended a victory drought that lasted 539 days which, for a player of his talent and youth, did not bode well for the future of the game.
McIlroy’s star will never burn as bright as Tiger’s supernova in the early 2000s, of course. But if Rory had imploded for good, it would have only added to the vacuum of personalities at the very top.
Jordan Spieth has the talent, Jon Rahm is giving it a good go and everyone loves Sergio Garcia. Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are exceedingly nice and gifted men.
None of those names would feel right on the cover of the latest PGA Tour game, or as the poster boy of a brand like Nike.
Which it is why it was so worrying when a combination of rib and back injuries curtailed McIlroy’s 2017. The ultimate athlete, like Tiger, and consequently more susceptible to injury, like Tiger.
Woods revolutionised the image of golfers from expert operators in the bodies of Average Joes to role models who could look just as impressive on the cover of GQ as on the PGA fairways.
With increased muscle and agility came increased torque and power. But just as most muscle cars are not known for their reliability, highly-tuned human machines also break down.
Woods was forced to undergo a knee operation because of the stresses he put his body through at around the same age as McIlroy. The return to form is welcome, but surgery after surgery can only mean that his body is old before its time.
These are lessons that McIlroy, back up to No7 in the world, would do well to heed. His victory on Sunday came after his seventh tournament in nine weeks – a schedule as hectic as it has ever been.
Palmer, a seven-time major winner, won at least one PGA Tour competition every year between 1955 and 1971. Given that McIlroy is still committed to playing many European Tour events, a tour that did not exist until 1972, he is putting his body through the wringer far more than Palmer would have ever dreamed of doing.
For now, ‘Wee Mac’ is looking back to somewhere near his best after slogging through the Valspar Championship looking nothing like it just a week ago.
It’s a measure of his talent that he can reel off five birdies over the last six holes at Bay Hill when his putting had looked so badly out of whack for most of the year to date.
His accuracy off the tee could do with some work and he could do without relying on his powers of recovery so much – but that he can overcome all of that and win is a golden sign ahead of his Green Jacket hunt in two weeks’ time.
Most of the cameras will be following Tiger around Augusta, but his revival will likely only be fleeting.
And when McIlroy is in his 40s, even a healthy Woods will be serenading the senior tours by then. We can only hope that the greens will still be dancing to Rory’s tune.
Rory McIlroy said he played a “perfect round of golf” after scooping his first victory in 18 months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – and admitted he had missed the feeling of chasing a win.
The 28-year-old carded a majestic final round of 64 at Bay Hill, reeling off five birdies on the final six holes to finish on 18 under par.
It put him three shots ahead of his nearest rival Bryson DeChambeau, and ensured he will be among the leading contenders at next month’s Masters.
The Northern Irishman told Sky Sports golf: “I played a perfect round of golf.
“It was awesome to feel the buzz of being somewhere around the lead going into the back nine and reeling off those four birdies in a row.
“I’ve missed it, I really have missed it, and to play the sort of golf that I played today under that pressure, I’m really proud of myself and just so happy to win.”
A particularly impressive 18th hole saw McIlroy hole a putt from more than 25 feet – prompting him to raise his arms aloft in celebration.
Paying tribute to the tournament’s namesake, he said: “To be able to create my own little piece of history on the 18th green here was pretty special.
“I’m just so happy to be back in the winner’s circle again and win a tournament that has Arnold Palmer’s name on it, someone that means so much to us in the game of golf.”
McIlroy’s last victory came in September 2016 when he won the FedEx Cup. There he had carded a final round of 64 – on the same day that Arnold Palmer died.
In his post-tournament press conference he said: “For me to get my next win here, it means a lot. I’ve had quite a connection with Arnold Palmer.
“He was always so nice to me – I’ve got so many letters from him from wins. I wish he would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green, but hopefully he is proud of me with the way I played that back nine.
“I tried to be as aggressive as I could and tried to take on shots when I needed to just like he would have. It’s sort of come full-circle since that day in September 2016. I’m just proud to be sitting up here and to have my name on that trophy.”
Jack Nicklaus congratulated McIlroy on Twitter – and said Palmer would have been “very proud”.
He said: “You had been struggling – by your standards – but no longer. You were swinging & playing beautifully this week. And obviously the putter was working very well. I am so pleased to see you win at my old friend @arnoldpalmer’s Bay Hill.”
He added: “AP would’ve been very proud & loved to greet you on 18. I offer an AP thumbs-up & wink on job well done.”
Tiger Woods was briefly in contention for the second successive Sunday after three birdies in the space of four holes immediately after the turn, but his challenge faded with bogeys at the 16th and 17th, and he finished in a share of fifth.