Double Wells Fargo winning Rory McIlroy returns to Quail Hollow in clearly a far better place than when last on the course in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina.
Aside from helping re-open the revamped Adare Manor course, McIlroy is returning to competition this week for the first time since his fifth placed finish last month at the Masters.
He is also making his eighth appearance in the Wells Fargo was eight years ago that McIlroy brilliantly burst on the Tour’s victory stage, posting a then final day course record 62 to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win a Tour title before his 21st birthday.
McIlroy missed the 2011 cut in the defence of his title but since then he’s never been outside the top-10 with results of T2nd in 2012, T10th (2013), T8th (2014) and 1st in 2015 thanks to a third day 61 and then T4th a year ago.
“It’s always nice coming back to a golf course and an event where you have played really well before, and you have good memories. Luckily this week is one of those weeks for me”, he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed the golf course as it’s one of those golf courses that sits-up well for me, and suits my eye so that I can play my game around here. The course has served me pretty well over the years and hopefully this week is another good one for me, and the start of a pretty good stretch for me.”
“So, I am looking at my golf in a very positive fashion”.
Last August, McIlroy looked a golfer simply going ‘through the motions’ finishing the year’s final Major, the PGA Championship, in a distant share of 22nd place, and looking for his year to end.
But after a second Augusta National anguish McIlroy admitted he’s is excited to be back in the deep end.
“I’ve practiced hard the last 10 days and while there is probably a little rust in my game, and there was in the pro-am, the game is feeling good and hopefully I can play my way into the tournament and then into contention the weekend”, he said.
“The good thing also is that the golf course this week is playing two to three shots easier than the PGA, so it’s a little easier and sets-up nicely for me”
“But the thing is you just can’t fake it around here as you just have to stand-up and hit good shots”.
Joining McIlroy in his first event since the Masters is Tiger Woods. He’s making no excuses for not keeping more in contact with the likes of McIlroy and golf’s younger generation of stars. Woods will play the first two rounds alongside now fellow Augusta National champion, Patrick Reed and reigning U.S. Open winner, Brooks Koepka.
And while Reed’s been on a whirlwind few weeks donned in the famed green jacket, Woods put away his clubs for 10-days simply ‘chilling out’ with his two children before getting back into training and working on his game ahead of his seventh event this season.
“I threw my clubs in the closet for about 10 days and just got away from the game not touching a club or making a swing,” Woods said.
And while Woods is now focussed on the events ahead, including next month’s U.S. Open and July’s 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, it’s meant he’s not had time to phone the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and golf’s other 20-something superstars as Woods had done so often throughout his rehabilitation from a fourth back surgery.
“No, they’re still friends of mine and we still text each other but I am now working on my game and there is less time for them to either come out to dinner or ask me questions of hop on the phone”, said Woods.
“I’m busy with my kids. I’m busy trying to prepare and practice myself and get ready. I think you may forget how much time it takes to practice and to get ready, and I have to spend the time to do it”.
Joining McIlroy are three other Irish including Graeme McDowell, contesting the event for a second year running but for the first occasion at Quail Hollow. He will also have Shane Lowry and Seamus Power for company with Lowry T24th last year at Wilmington and having missed the cut on debut in 2016. Power made his debut a year ago, just squeaking into the top-50.
Meantime – Justin Thomas, winner of the PGA Championship last year at Quail Hollow, found himself at the centre of a marriage proposal on the first tee at the start of Wednesday’s Pro-Am.
Thomas walked-up to a couple just after teeing-off, introduced himself and handed the unsuspecting bride-to-be a ball marked ‘Will you?” while the husband-to-be is down on one knee proposing.
The woman was left totally gobsmacked and after an emotional ‘Yes!’ Thomas joined the happy couple in a group hug.
IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time)
Rory McIlroy – 12.30pm
Shane Lowry – 12.40pm
Graeme McDowell – 6pm
Seamus Power – 7.10pm