If there was any question who the world no. 1 player in the world is at the moment, Rory McIlroy quashed any naysayers on Sunday at Quail Hollow Golf Club. Yep, he did it again. For the second time in the past three weeks, McIlroy took home the winner’s trophy at the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for McIlroy, who made his third consecutive start at the PGA Tour this past week. With two of the European Tour’s most prestigious event coming up in the next consecutive weeks— including its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship and the Irish Open, which the 27 year old from Northern Ireland is hosting for the first time — McIlroy almost decided not to tee it up at Quail Hollow, which would have been understandable, even though it was the site of his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, where he wowed with his gutsy performance, making six consecutive 3s in the last six holes, including a long, winding 40-footer on the 72nd hole to shoot the course record 62.
The event was never on McIlroy’s schedule, which he puts together at the start of the year. It was segued between some massive events in the U.S. and Europe and it falls during a tough part of the Tour’s calendar, following the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, which McIlroy won, and the Players Championship. Then, with McIlroy heading over to Europe for another consecutive two weeks, he worried that his performance might struggle without a week off in between. He might be too tired. His play over the next couple of weeks might suffer.
“The week after Augusta, I looked at the FedExCup rankings and I was outside the top 100 (in points),” recalled McIlroy. “I said, ‘I need to play a little bit more. I feel like I’m playing well. So it’s been on my mind sort of since then that I wanted to play here.”
McIlroy finally made the tough call to play toward the end of April — and I’m sure he has no regrets.
McIlroy broke his own scoring record in Saturday’s third round, where he fired an impressive 11-under 61. That dominating performance basically had the rest of the field playing for second place. Heading into the final round, McIlroy held a four-shot lead over Webb Simpson, a local hometown favorite in the Charlotte area.
“I’m obviously delighted to get the win,” said McIlroy. “The way I played yesterday really set me up to go out there today. I was in control of the golf tournament and I just needed to shoot a solid round and that was going to get me over the line.
“It’s always nice to see your name up around the top. It’s just a great momentum builder. Going into the thick of the season, still got three majors coming up. There’s still a lot of golf — lot of things to play for, lot of golf to play and I don’t feel like my game has ever been in better shape, so I’m excited for the next few weeks.”
En route to his 11th PGA Tour victory, McIlroy didn’t get complacent, but rather he tried to build on it and increase his lead. While he *only* shot a three-under 69, it was good enough to runaway from the field, with Simpson and Patrick Rodgers finishing seven strokes behind Mcilroy in a tie for second.
“That’s where you have to set your own goals and you have to motive yourself to reach those and I set myself a goal today of trying to birdie on the par-5s and birdie the two drivable par-4s, the eighth hole and the 14th hole. If I made six birdies right there, there was a good chance no one was going to catch me.
“I didn’t quite do that, but I still shot a solid round and did what I needed to do.”
Standing on the 16th tee, McIlroy saw he had a four-shot cushion. Prior to that, he hadn’t been aware of how large of an advantage he held over the next-closest competitor.
McIlroy, who didn’t kick off his 2015 season in the U.S. as well as he would have liked, appears to have found his groove. It’s one of those things where when Mcilroy is “on” and remotely has his “A” game, he’s a very, very difficult player to beat and/or catch. Granted he can be a little streaky a la Phil, there’s no denying that when he’s good, he’s fantastic.
“If I miss a green, I’m able to get it up and down and giving myself plenty of chances for birdies,” he said. “I’ll always go on a stretch of tournaments like I did — even at Augusta, I shot 31 on the back nine on Friday and then I shot 32 on the front nine on Saturday. I get stretches of golf during tournaments, where I’m on, and I make a lot of birdies and if you can do that, it sort of makes the rest of it a little more — you can pick and choose where you want to be aggressive.
“You can play a little more conservatively here and there. I got on a great run there yesterday, obviously — that’s what won me the tournament.
There’s no doubt that heading into Sunday, the event was McIlroy’s to lose. He certainly didn’t disappointed, playing aggressively conservative and staying patient.
McIlroy added that his current form reminds him of that insane stretch he had last summer, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship with a month.
“Last summer I felt very much in control of all aspects of my game,” said McIlroy. “I felt like I was firing — I was probably playing a little bit better last summer, but I felt like everything was really on. I putted well, I was chipping well, everything was on. I still feel there’s a couple little areas of my game I can sharpen up on heading into the U.S. Open, but it’s very close.”
The next major, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, is less than a month away. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said recently that any player only getting in a few practice rounds won’t have a chance.
When McIlroy was asked for his plans to see the course, he quipped, “What’s Mike Davis’ handicap?”
McIlroy doesn’t plan on making the cross-country trip to Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington prior to the championship. With his hectic schedule and commitments, he simply won’t have time to go on an extra scouting trip. He plans to arrive a little early and play a couple of practice rounds the weekend before the official week of the major kicks off. He said he’ll probably play three practice rounds prior to teeing it up for the first round at Chambers.
“At the end of the day, there’s going to be someone lifting the trophy at the end of the week,” said McIlroy. “it’s a bit of an unknown to most people, so you have to prepare, but I think you can fall into the trap of trying to over prepare and you can do all the preparation you want.
“If you don’t go out there and execute the shots on the week, all the preparation doesn’t mean anything. So, I’d much rather have my game in good shape going in there and play practice rounds the way I usually would. I think that will do well for me.
Well, given that McIlroy has played 250 competitive holds in the last three weeks, hopefully he gets some much-deserved shuteye before Wentworth.
“It hasn’t caught up to me yet,” said McIlroy. “Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with me in the next two weeks. As I said, I’m going to try to get a lot of sleep between now and teeing it up Thursday and hopefully I’m ready to go.”
Aside: the last three winners at the Tour’s larger events, Jordan Spieth at the Masters, Rory at the Match Play, Rickie Fowler at the Players Championship and Rory again at Quail Hollow. If you haven’t already accepted it, you should — because golf’s youth generation is booming and it’s in good hands. Now, the question is, who will be the next young star to win a major or pseudo-major?