• Arnold Palmer Invitational, Round Four

Revitalised Woods knocks McIlroy off world No. 1 spot

ESPN staff
March 25, 2013 « Agbonlahor: Survival over record | Chartbeat test »
Tiger Woods putted superbly at Bay Hill © AP
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Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard

Tiger Woods will wake up on Tuesday morning as the new world No. 1 after he claimed the victory needed to knock Rory McIlroy off top spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Woods' ascendency to the peak of the golfing mountain, where he has not stood since October 2010, had looked inevitable for the majority of the week at Bay Hill. But adverse weather forced him to wait an extra 24 hours to cement a two-shot victory - his eighth at the event.

The American - who posted a winning score of 13-under - returned to the course on Monday holding a three-stroke lead with 16 holes to play. Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler - completing on 11-under and eight-under respectively - gave admirable chase, but Woods never allowed them within tangible distance of a fightback.

Fowler, in particular, thought he might make an impression when he drained a birdie at 12 to move to 11-under - two shots behind his compatriot. However, within seconds Woods lined up his own effort from around 20 feet, finding the middle of the hole to restore his three-stroke buffer.

It was classic Woods, the Woods that amassed 623 weeks at world No. 1 prior to his personal capitulation, with the putter red hot.

Well-publicised revelations about his private life, in addition to a complete makeover of his swing, sent golf's most iconic figure into a two-year wilderness that saw him plummet to 58 in the world, but March 25, 2013 will go down as a major landmark in Woods' renaissance.

His revival is unlikely to be considered truly complete by critics until a 15th major - and first since 2008 - is added to his collection. On this showing, that prospect is not far away.

"That's up to them," Woods told Sky Sports on the importance of ending his major drought. "That's their opinion. I'm pleased with the way I'm playing, and that's enough of that.

"This (being world No. 1) is just a by-product. It's a by-product of hard work, patience and getting back to winning golf tournaments."

The defending champion added birdies at four and six on Monday to one he had already picked up at two, taking his tally to 45 birdies - or better - from his last two starts. It was a pace his challengers struggled to match, although Fowler and Rose kept things interesting.

When Woods wobbled at the eighth - finding a tree before chipping out for a bogey - a small window opened as the 37-year-old dropped to 13-under. A wayward drive at nine then had Woods tossing his driver in anger, yet he recovered to make par.

That was the issue for Fowler in particular: Every time Woods appeared to have dug himself a hole, as he did when leaving himself a tough par putt at 11, he managed to find a way out.

Fowler closed the gap to two again at 14 when his ball wiped its feet before dropping, but he missed the chance to increase pressure at the next when, after Woods fell short of the green, Fowler miscued wildly to the left with his own approach. Both men bogeyed - no harm done for Woods.

It proved Fowler's final fling. At the next Woods safely made birdie to get back to 14-under, whereas the youngster overshot the green, narrowly escaped water and made a triple-bogey. Rose also birdied 16 to close within three, but victory - and the world No. 1 spot - belonged to Woods.

Elsewhere, Keegan Bradley's chase flickered but ultimately faltered as he settled for an eight-under final score.

Masters champion Bubba Watson ended his week with his best round when signing for a 67. That lifted the American to an overall four-under.

Ian Poulter experienced contrasting fortunes to Watson as he posted his worst score of the tournament, ending on a 75 to drop back to two-under. Poulter had double-bogeyed the par-four first and never truly recovered his rhythm.

Graeme McDowell settled for a two-over finish while Lee Westwood was three strokes further back. Sergio Garcia was forced to withdraw after damaging a shoulder when climbing a tree to play a shot on Sunday.

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