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Rory McIlroy survives Tiger Woods best-ever finish

Tiger Woods shot a 62 Sunday, his best final round ever. But it wasn't enough to catch Rory McIlroy in the Honda Classic. McIlroy is now the world's No. 1 golfer.

By Simon EvansReuters / March 5, 2012

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, throws his ball after winning the Honda Classic golf tournament at 12 under par, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Sunday, March 4, 2012. McIlroy became the top-ranked golfer in the world.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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Rory McIlroy was proclaimed as golf's next truly great player after winning the Honda Classic on Sunday and taking over as the world's No. 1 ranked player.

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Many had expected McIlroy to reach the top and the Northern Irishman fulfilled those prophesies when he officially became the world No. 1, at just 22 years old.

"He's the real deal," said Johnny Miller, a 25-time winner on the PGA Tour and now a respected television commentator.

"He is just going to get better, he could have a run now where he could separate from numbers two and three."

Only Tiger Woods, who produced the best final-round of his life on Sunday (62) only to finish tied for second behind McIlroy, has reached the top spot at a younger age than Woods did.

IN PICTURES: Tiger Woods through the years

McIlroy blew a four-stroke lead at last year's Masters and was suddenly under pressure again on Sunday, with Woods on the prowl.

But McIlroy showed much he had learned from his Augusta meltdown, proving he has the nerves and maturity to match his ball striking, holding off the best player of his generation and setting the stage for an epic rivalry.

"I think it is great for golf. It creates a lot of interest and I'd love to be able to go down the stretch with him a lot more," said McIlroy.

"It was always a dream of mine to become the world number one, the best player in the world, whatever you want to call it.

"But I didn't know what I would be able to get here this quickly. Hopefully I can hold onto it for a little longer."

McIlroy replaced Luke Donald as the top ranked golfer in the world after he, German Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood had each taken turns at No. 1 when  Woods slipped down the rankings in 2010 after his long reign.

But while each of those players produced the consistency to enjoy deserved, albeit relatively brief spells as No. 1, the golfing community was left gushing at McIlroy's rapid rise.

"He's the best player I've ever seen, tee-to-green, period," said McIlroy's Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell.

"As soon as he learned to putt he was going to be a dominating force and you are starting to see that now...he's going to win multiple, multiple majors."

Neither Donald nor Westwood have won a major championship b but McIlroy rebounded from the Masters to win last year's US Open, with a tournament record score of 16-under-par.

His form of late has been the definition of consistency, he had finished out of the top five just once in the ten ranked events prior to the Honda.

"That's pretty impressive playing," said Woods. "That's what you have to do.

"You aren't going to win every time you tee it up but you can be consistent, be close and be in the hunt and that's what he has done."

Any lingering doubts about his ability to deal with final round pressure were cast aside on Sunday where he had the combination of the tricky Bear Trap trio of holes to deal with, having heard the roar of the crowd celebrating Woods' eagle on the 18th which, for a moment, had reduced the lead to just a stroke.

The 18-times major winner Jack Nicklaus, watching McIlroy master the course he designed, was impressed as much with the elegance of his golf as his composure.

"I think he has got the most natural motion game today," Nicklaus said.

"I think he just looks great going through the ball, he plays from the ground up, which I like to see, he's not of big stature so he needs to use all his body, he's a lot like Gary Player.

"He's a nice young man, he handles himself and he is going to be a great representative for the sport."

(Editing by Julian Linden)

IN PICTURES: Tiger Woods through the years

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