Rory McIlroy declared his third Wells Fargo Championship triumph to be a ‘huge boost’ heading into next week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. McIlroy, with his wife and eight-month old daughter watching on, ended an 18-month winless drought at his much-loved Quail Hollow course in suburban Charlotte.
McIlroy had broken through to win on the PGA Tour in 2010 at Quail Hollow and he won again in 2015 but there was something very special about Sunday’s victory despite the ‘heart-in-the-mouth’ scenario down the left side of the final fairway.
The win was the first time in eight tournaments, both on the European and PGA Tours, where he had won an event twice prior with McIlroy now breaking that statistic to win at Quail Hollow three times among his 28 worldwide victories. Victory has also seen him jump eight places and back to World No. 7 having dropped to No. 15 in the world, his lowest World Ranking since November 2009.
And it was not lost on the now 32-year old McIlroy that his next event is the 2021 PGA Championship where he returns to the famed Kiawah Island course nine years on from claiming the first of two Rodman Wanamaker trophies in 2012. I was on a bad connection late last night when I asked McIlroy the importance of securing victory ahead of the PGA Championship.
“I didn’t get the last part of that, Bernie, but yeah, this victory’s very important going into Kiawah in a couple weeks’ time,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I played really well there last time. I’m honestly not sure whether they’ve made any changes to the golf course since, but I’ll go up there and try to do my homework and re‑familiarise myself with the layout a little bit.
“But yeah, it’s certainly great timing. This is obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been. So it’s still ‑‑ I mean, I’ll be able to poke holes in everything that I did today, it’s certainly far from perfect, but this one is validation that I’m on the right track.”
And while jubilantly embracing his wife and young daughter, McIlroy singled out new coach Pete Cowen for special praise but also recognised the efforts of his long-time coach, Michael Bannon.
“I mean, Pete deserves a good bit of credit for it, for sure,” said McIlroy. “I still ‑‑ obviously Michael Bannon is the one that’s got me all the way to this point, so I’m never going to mention Pete without Michael because Michael deserves a lot of credit, too.
“But the work that Pete and I have done over the last few weeks again, going back to the last question, today under pressure I had a couple of things to fall back on, which was really important, especially under pressure. Needing to hit good shots down the stretch, I had a couple of very playable swing thoughts that I’ve had all week.
“And Pete and I did some good work last week in Florida and I felt good about my game coming in here, but I didn’t know that ‑‑ obviously I wasn’t expecting to come and win the first week straight out again. It’s satisfying to see the work is paying off, but it’s just the start.
“There’s so much more I want to achieve and so much more I want to do in the game. But this is, as I said, it’s nice validation that I’m on the right track.”
And to McIlroy’s credit he also singled out the part played by caddy and closest friend, Harry Diamond. It was Diamond’s clear-thinking that prompted McIlroy to take a penalty drop down the left side of the 72nd hole. McIlroy, at first, was thinking of striving to get the ball back on the fairway before Diamond suggested taking a drop.
“Harry was awesome out there today, especially that decision on the last,” said McIlroy. “I was ready to get in there and try to play that with a lob wedge and he was sort of like, “Let’s take a step back, let’s think about this, where’s the best place you’re hitting your third from.” So he sort of calmed me down and slowed me down a little bit and said, “Pal, let’s just think about this a little bit.”
“Ultimately we made the right decision and I dropped instead of trying to play that shot out of the hazard. Hit a great third shot onto the green and was able to two‑putt from there. But I think this is Harry and I’s sixth win together and it’s probably been our best one. Bay Hill back in 2018 was great because I hadn’t won in a while, but this is even better just because Harry’s been there every step of the way.
“The sort of tough parts that I’ve sort of had to endure over the last few months, he’s been with me every step of the way and it’s nice to come through all that with him and to get into the winner’s circle again.”
It was fortunate McIlroy was enjoying a two-shot advantage as he then pulled-out an 8-iron, and with 198-yards to the green, found the putting surface in three and then calmly two-putted for a bogey ‘5’.
McIlroy’s relief was obvious in standing beside the cup and shaking his clenched right fist back-and-forward. And as if to say ‘At Last’, McIlroy hurled his winning golf ball probably the furthest he’s ever thrown a golf ball and deep into the Quail Hollow crowd. Well done, Rory!