Caddie Joe LaCava and Tiger Woods are happy as they walk off the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.
Caddie Joe LaCava and Tiger Woods are happy as they walk off the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Phelan M. Ebenhack

Tiger's out of the woods

TIGER Woods iced his Masters preparation with a top-five result at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, as Rory McIlroy produced a stunning final round to end an 18-month winless drought.

Four-time major winner McIlroy blitzed the elite field at Orlando's famed Bay Hill course with a final round eight-under-par 64 on Monday morning (AEST).

The Northern Irishman's 18-under total left him three shots clear of runner-up Bryson DeChambeau (68), with in-form Englishman Justin Rose (67) third at 14 under.

Woods is "extremely" pleased with his preparation for Augusta National, having made a vintage final-round charge.

In his final tournament before returning to the Masters for the first time in three years, Woods gave fans hope of ending an almost five-year winless drought on the US PGA Tour on a dramatic last day at Bay Hill.

He came within a shot of the lead but a three-under-par 69 left him sharing fifth at 10 under, eight shots back from Rory McIlroy.

Having sat on the sidelines for 10 months last year while recovering from spinal fusion surgery, Woods said he didn't anticipate his comeback to be so successful.

"I'm very (pleased), extremely," Woods said of his return, having finished 12th at the Honda Classic and in the top 25 at Torrey Pines earlier this year.

"If you (told) me at the beginning of the year that I would have a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in a heart beat."

Last week, four-time Masters winner Woods firmed as outright betting favourite for Augusta for the first time since 2013.

Woods said he would head to Augusta early, having not been to the Masters as a competitor since finishing tied for 17th in 2015.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said.

"I need to go take a look at it - I haven't putted on bent grass in two years, so this is going to be new to me."

McIlroy's 14th US Tour win is his first victory worldwide since claiming the Tour Championship on September 25, 2016 - the day legendary golfer Palmer died, aged 87.

The 28-year-old stormed home on Monday with four straight birdies, starting at the 13th and highlighted by a chip-in from off the green at the par-four 15th.

He then drained a 7.3m birdie putt at the 18th before an emotional celebration.

"I've kept saying the last few weeks, I wasn't far away ... it's so nice to see everything come together, finally," McIlroy said.

"I've worked hard on everything, not just my putting but my ball-striking and iron play."

A host of big names threw their hat into the ring during a thrilling final day, with overnight leader Henrik Stenson carding a spirited 71 to finish fourth at 13 under.

Woods, an eight-time winner at Bay Hill, delighted enormous crowds when he pulled within one of the lead courtesy of three back-nine birdies, but faded with two bogeys to finish at 10 under.

It was the 14-time major winner's second top-five finish in as many weeks.

Australia's Marc Leishman signed off his Palmer title defence in style with a 67 to finish at eight under the card and sneak inside the top 10 with a share of seventh.

Jason Day, the 2016 winner at Bay Hill, was in dire straits after dropping three shots early, but salvaged an even-par 72 and five-under total and a top-25 result.

Fellow Australian Adam Scott was also solid on day four, posting a 71 in to finish on two.

Perth native Curtis Luck struggled to a 76, finishing at one over.

AAP



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