Rory McIlroy did his part to return some normalcy and order to the world of golf on Sunday.
Yes, Rory McIlroy is a winner again, for the 19th time and he did it with some flair and drama on a nail-biter of an afternoon at the Quail Hollow course that he knows so very well.
Rory had been in an 18-month winless slumber but showed off a lot of skill and shot-making and some nice scrambling while his closest competitors were falling apart down the stretch at the Wells Fargo.
“It’s never easy,” Rory said after surviving a wickedly bad tee shot at the final hole of the dreaded Green Mile, a stretch that can bring the best to their proverbial knees. What Rory did was first overtake overnight leader Keith Mitchell then do enough good things to build a two-shot lead with those three tough holes in front of him. A really nice birdie on the par five 15th was what Rory needed to get this done. He hit the front left greenside bunker in two then produced a sensational sand shot that left him an easy two-footer for birdie to get to 11-under par, two clear of Abraham Ancer who was resting comfortably in the clubhouse after a sparking round of 66 and a nine-under total.
McIlroy will look back and know that he took care of business on the two back nine scoring holes — the driveable par four 14th and par-five 15. He birdied both, Mitchell did not. He hit a perfect drive at 16 to set up par there then hit a beauty of a seven-iron into the 17th and nearly made birdie there, giving him that two-shot margin over Ancer and three over Mitchell, who bogeyed 17.
Two shots to spare and he needed them on the monster 18th. He chose three-wood off the tee and hit a huge hook, reminiscent of the big hook on the 10th at 2011 Masters. Rory’s golf ball settled deep into a gnarly lie in the hazard and after going through all his options with caddie Harry Diamond, decided it was in his best interest to take an unplayable lie. After two drops went back toward the hazard, he got to place his ball and he’d launch a nice eight-iron that settled just short of pin-high, 43 feet from the hole.
A great approach left him a bogey putt he could handle. In it went and Rory stood there with a sheepish smile and revved up a controlled series of mini-fist pumps. Shortly after, he’d fire the ball into the crowd, just like he did back in 2010 and 2015.
“One year, six months — sounds like a long time,” Rory began. “The world’s a different place,” he emphasized and it certainly is. Marriage, fatherhood and a world-wide pandemic later, Rory winning with an adoring crowd chanting his name made everyone feel like things are returning to normal, as normal as they can at this stage.
“This is one of my favorite places in the world — to break the drought here, it’s just awesome,” said Rory who closed with a second straight weekend 68 that went on the heels of his Thursday 72 and that Friday 66 for a 10-under par winning total. Double digits under par at Quail Hollow is he-man work.
The crowds sounded like they did before the pandemic. Rory had a huge gallery and it was there to see him win. They screamed for every great shot and he hit a bunch of them, avoiding bogeys all the way until that final hole when he could afford one. “It’s awesome to play in front of people again,” Rory said. “The crowd here has been awesome all week and they carried me through today.”
Rory was one of the players who admitted he missed the crowds, missed the electricity. “At first I thought I’d enjoy the peace and quiet, but that wasn’t the case,” explained McIlroy, who felt the silence had a negative effect on his performances.
He also found the gumption to seek out a second opinion to help cure what ailed his swing and Pete Cowen provided that counsel. Most of all this week, it was Rory’s putter that paved the road to victory. He was nothing short of solid with it and it helped him rank high in the scrambling stats — something that is needed on a course the caliber of Quail Hollow.
In the end, it was Quail Hollow taking her favorite son and wrapping her scoring-friendly arms around him as Rory managed something he’s never done in his storied career — he won the same event for a third time.
Nineteen wins, four majors, a wife and daughter — it is a new world for Rory McIlroy.
In two weeks, he’ll return to another venue where he won a major championship by eight shots back in 2012. Yes, that was the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Kiawah and the PGA await once again.
It’s a different world and a different Rory McIlroy but the same Ocean course that he made his own nine years ago.
One Final Rory Note: This win by Rory almost didn’t happen but it did thanks to an afternoon tee time on Thursday. You may have noticed the KT (kinesthetic) taping on the back of Rory’s neck. It was there for a reason. Wednesday evening on the range after hitting a three-iron, he turned to speak to caddie Harry Diamond and as Rory described: “The left side of my neck just completely locked up and I couldn’t move it. It was really, really strange. He iced it Wednesday night and his 12:54 first round tee time allowed him time for treatment and it loosened up. “It was still bothering me on Thursday afternoon,” he said, “but it sort of loosened up as the week went on.”