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McIlroy holds off Tiger to take top golf spot

By Simon Evans

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) -

Britain's Rory McIlroy held off a spectacular final round charge from Tiger Woods to win the Honda Classic on Sunday and take over as golf's new world number one.

The 22-year-old McIlroy, winner of last year's U.S. Open, replaced Luke Donald at the top of the world rankings after a thrilling victory at the PGA National course.

Only Woods, who finished tied for second with Tom Gillis on Sunday, reached number one at an earlier age.

McIlroy started the last day with a two-shot lead and finished up winning by the same margin after shooting a final round of one-under-par 69 for a total of 12-under.

The Northern Irishman looked to be cruising to victory until Woods charged up the leaderboard with a 62, his lowest final round score of his career, making an eagle at the last hole to briefly cut the margin to one stroke.

But McIlroy, who had bogeyed the 12th, birdied the 13th to restore his two-shot advantage then kept his composure through the tricky 'Bear Trap' trio of holes to win his third PGA title.

It was the perfect test of McIlroy's credentials, playing three of the toughest holes on the tour, designed by the watching Jack Nicklaus, with Woods waiting for him to slip-up.

"It was tough today, especially seeing Tiger make a charge, seeing him post 10 under," said McIlroy.

"To shoot one under in these conditions when you go in with the lead....I was just able to get the job done."

Woods, despite just missing out on his first win on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship in September 2009, was nonetheless delighted with a performance which suggested he can recapture the form which took him to 14 major wins.

"I really didn't miss many shots today. It was a good day and I hit a lot of good putts that went in and some that just skirted the edge," he said.

"It could have really been something special today if a few putts would have gone in.

"It feels good because I felt like I've been close to shooting this score or scores like this. It was just a matter of time before things all fell into place," he said.

Gillis, playing in the final group with McIlroy, birdied the final hole for a 69 and a tie for second place at 10-under.

Britain's Lee Westwood, who held the number one ranking for 22 weeks in 2010 and 2011, finished outright fourth, two shots back at eight-under, after closing with a 63.

South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, last year's Masters champion, tied with Britain's Justin Rose at seven-under.

(Editing by Julian Linden)

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