McIlroy staring at a pro career first at Quail Hollow

Bernie McGuire

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

History beckons for Rory McIlroy heading to the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.In his present 27-tournament winning career, the recently-turned 32-year-old is yet to win the same tournament on three occasions.

He gets that chance later today (Sunday) in suburban Charlotte after posting a third round 68 to finish sharing second place with fellow US Open winner Gary Woodland (70) at seven-under par. American Keith Mitchell signed for a bogey-free five-under par 66 to lead the $8.1m event by two shots at nine-under par.

The 29-year-old Tennessee-born Mitchell was just one of two players to produce a bogey-free round as he seeks to capture a second Tour title after claiming the 2019 Honda Classic by a stroke from Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka.

McIlroy’s won at Quail Hollow twice before and he can also boast that same feat in seven other tournaments on both the European and PGA Tours, with the chance now to win the same event three times in his pro career.

“It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be exciting,” said McIlroy. “I haven’t had it for a while. I’m trying to think of the last time I might have ‑‑ maybe like ‑‑ Bay Hill 2020. So yeah, it’s going to be cool. I really have missed it. I mean, I said I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did when we came back. I felt that I actually enjoyed the quietness, but I sort of realised that it’s hard for me to bring the best out in myself without that atmosphere that we had today.

“I’m just ‑‑ look, I’m excited to be in the position I’m in. I wasn’t really expecting to be in this position coming into this week. I felt like I was still working on my game and I thought progress this week was being here today, which I am. Then I played well again today. So I just have to go out and try to play well again tomorrow and see where that leaves me

And if there was one aspect of his game that was standout, it was McIlroy’s putting, so much so he ended the round third overall in putting for the week at Quail Hollow. Also in looking at his round he had eight one-putts.

“I’ve obviously worked a little bit on my putting,” he said. “I saw Fax (Brad Faxon) a couple of times when I was home. Even Pete (Cowen) gave me a couple of little things to think about, which sort of takes my mind off the result of the putt and just sort of going through the process of it a little bit better.

“So, I’ve putted well all week. Historically I’ve putted these greens well and I just ‑‑ even though they’ve changed from bent greens when I first came here to Bermuda, I’ve always been able to see the lines.

“So I’ve been comfortable with that. Then it’s just a matter of trusting that I’m putting good strokes on them. I think more than anything today, my speed was good and that was ‑‑ you know, when the greens get tricky and there’s wind and there’s tough reads, speed’s almost more important than anything else. My speed was good today and probably part of the reason why I was able to hole a few.”

It was only four holes into McIlroy’s round when we saw the long overdue sight of McIlroy’s name atop of a leaderboard. It has been 552 days since McIlroy was top of the pile in first place out in the Far East and that was the scenario for the better part of 11 holes but standing out in his round like the proverbial dog’s hind leg on his scorecard is a 12th hole double-bogey ‘6’.

McIlroy headed into golf’s ‘moving day’ just two shots off the lead and after two pars, the current World No. 15 was on the move with back-to-back birdies at three and four. At the par-4 third, he found the green some 21-feet right of the flag and holed the very fast curling right-to-left putt and then at the next, the par-3 fourth, McIlroy went into the lead in seeing his 16-footer drop for birdie.

McIlroy made par at both five and six before he hit a booming 340-yard drive down the par-5 seventh and while McIlroy found a green-side bunker with his second, he splashed out to six-foot for birdie. McIlroy was pin-high left at the short par-4 eighth hole and while leaving his second some 20-feet shy of the flag, he sent his third shot into the cup for the fourth birdie of his round.

A par at the ninth saw McIlroy head to the turn leading by a shot at eight-under par having found five of seven fairways, eight of nine greens in regulation and 13 putts. Though looking at his driving stats, the two fairways McIlroy missed were at eight and nine and that trend continued missing the ‘short stuff’ at 10, 11 and horribly at the par-4 12th when he double-crossed his fade to see his ball head well left and deep into the tree line.

McIlroy had no option but to chip out before finding the green in three but then three-putted from some 85-feet for a double-bogey ‘6’ to send him into a share of fourth at six-under. He moved back into second place at seven-under in holing a seven-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th ahead of three closing pars.

For the golfing purists, McIlroy hit eight of 14 fairways (just three on the inward nine) and 28 putts (13 out and 15 in).

Seamus Power (+5) and Shane Lowry (+6) both carded disappointing four-over par rounds of 75 to drop well down the leaderboard.


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