Noren carded a course record of 62 in the final round last year, but was nevertheless happy to heap praise on McIlroy’s flawless 65, which gave the four-time major winner a halfway total of 12 under par and a three-shot lead over England’s Sam Horsfield.
“That’s the best round I’ve ever seen. I’m about to quit golf I think,” said Noren, whose own 68 left him five shots off the pace on seven under alongside Robert Rock and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
“It’s hard to draw off it when it’s that good. It’s tough because it’s almost like you’re trying to play better than you need to when you see that. I really wanted to get the honour and be first on the tee and then you don’t have to hit after that 330-yard driver or 300-yard three-wood.”
McIlroy’s more measured assessment reflected the fact that he missed good chances on the first three holes and failed to birdie the 17th and 18th, both par fives, for the second day in succession.
“There’s still a couple of loose shots in there, like the one on 18 (which plugged in a greenside bunker), but overall it was a great round of golf,” McIlroy said after matching his career-low score at Wentworth, although a previous 65 in 2009 was before the course changes the following year.
“I had everything sort of firing today and it was nice to take advantage of the opportunities I gave myself. All you ask for is giving yourself a chance every week.
“I could go out and shoot two 65s at the weekend and get beaten so you can’t expect to win. All I expect to do is go out and control what I can control. Every tournament is a big tournament but the more I can play well and the more confidence I can build going into those majors the better.”
McIlroy, who confirmed he is no longer working with putting coach Phil Kenyon, got the ball rolling with a birdie on the par-five fourth, before picking up further shots on the seventh and ninth to reach the turn in 32.
The 29-year-old then rattled off four birdies in succession on the back nine and was five shots clear before Horsfield fired four birdies in five holes from the 12th.
The Orlando-based 21-year-old, who is a protege of Ian Poulter, gained his European Tour card by winning the qualifying school by eight shots last year and has already recorded two top-four finishes in his rookie season.
“I think any time you’re playing on the weekend and you’re up there near Rory, I think you’re going to be doing pretty well,” Horsfield said. “Whoever I end up playing with I’m going to go out there and give it my all.
“I’ve lived in America since I was five but I do feel English and there’s no doubt who I’d play for in the Ryder Cup. It’s pretty cool to be able to play in an event like this.”
European number one Tommy Fleetwood birdied the last three holes to shoot 66 and lie four shots off the lead, while playing partner Poulter did the same in his 67 to finish three under.
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.