Rory McIlroy is back: Getting inside his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship

The Northern Irishman ended his win drought with a third triumph at the Quail Hollow Club.

If we'd listened, Rory McIlroy more or less told us that he'd win the Wells Fargo Championship back in 2019.

"I love this place," he said. "I even feel like I don't even have to play that good and I can still get it round."

Two years on, averaging 76.00 from his previous five rounds of strokeplay golf, it was almost as if he was providing the ultimate test for that hypothesis.

If he was, he proved it in stunning style.

A Friday 66 helped him recover from an opening 72 and a crooked neck, then a pair of 68s saw him prevail at the weekend.

And, truth be told, this was classic McIlroy - it had everything.

It was preceded by a protracted spell of poor form, it was a bounce-back prompted by a putting tip, throughout the week he made the difficult look easy and the easy look difficult, it came amid chatter about his caddie and doubts about his future, and ultimately the success arrived on Mother's Day (he famously won his first Major on Father's Day).

As Nick Faldo put it in commentary: "The crowds are back and Rory's back."

Let's take a look at the many factors behind the 28th triumph of his career, one that saw him return to the world's top 10.

The Quail Hollow magic

10 top 25 finishes, eight of them top 10s, one playoff defeat and three victories - there are many professional golfers would take that for an entire career and be quite happy.

McIlroy has achieved it on one layout in just 11 visits.

"This place has been good to me," he said with a lovely touch of restraint.

"Ever since I first set eyes on this golf course, I loved it and that love has been reciprocated. I've played so well here over the years."

Ahead of the final round he initially refuted the idea that he was flourishing because he was at Quail Hollow, insisting that it might have happened wherever he was competing.

But consider the words he used after victory in 2015: "There's great flow to this golf course. It allows you to get out of your own way and I've got great memories here. I've probably birdied every hole on this golf course so figure there's no reason why I shouldn't do it again."

That deep down comfort might have been in the back of his mind when he added on Saturday night: "For me to be in contention for the first time in a while and for it to be here … yeah, it's probably beneficial."

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A little good fortune

He revealed afterwards that his quest was very nearly scuppered before it started and that only the luck of the draw had allowed him to tee it up on Thursday.

"I hurt my neck on Wednesday afternoon and couldn't make a backswing," he explained.

"If I'd had a morning tee time on Thursday, I probably would have pulled out, but everything aligned. I was off in the afternoon, I got treatment and progressively got better as the week went on. It's just amazing how these little things all add up."

Plenty of grind

"There's been a lot of hard work," he said of the last two months.

"I've put my head down, I haven't really looked too much in either direction, I've just tried to do what I need to do.

"You know, for a couple of months there, all that hard work seemed like it wasn't really getting anywhere, wasn't providing me with much."

He cut an increasingly disconsolate figure after carding a final round 76 at Bay Hill, 79-75 at Sawgrass and 76-74 at Augusta National. But now he can look ahead with a smile on his face.

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"I'm more excited about this because it's the first real test that I've had since working with Pete.

"Needing to hit good shots down the stretch, I had a couple of very playable swing thoughts. For it to pretty much hold together all afternoon, first time of asking, I'm excited about that."

Putting it into practice

Nor was his work entirely on the swing.

He's also been chatting with old friends - mind coach Dr Bob Rotella and putting expert Brad Faxon. That, allied to his instinctive appreciation of the Quail Hollow putting surfaces, as well as the tee to green test, was another key component.

"I saw Brad Faxon at home (in Florida) and even Pete gave me a couple of little things to think about, sort of taking my mind off the result of the putt and just sort of going through the process a little bit better," he explained ahead of the final round.

"Historically I've putted these greens well. Even when they changed from bent grass greens to Bermuda, I was still able to see the lines."

Diamond is a man's best friend

McIlroy's choice of caddie has prompted chitter-chatter ever since he turned pro and the fact he currently has close friend Harry Diamond on the bag has not quietened the naysayers.

But, when it really mattered, on the 72nd hole, when McIlroy found himself in trouble among thick grass with the creek looming large, Diamond was no meek and compliant yes-man.

Friends and work colleagues.
Friends and work colleagues.

"Harry was awesome out there today, especially that decision on the last," McIlroy said.

"I was ready to get in there and try 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?'

"He slowed me down and said, 'Pal, let's just think about this a little bit.'

"I think this our sixth win together and it's probably our best one. The tough parts that I've 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."

The buzz

McIlroy made no secret of his difficulty with the sound of silence.

"Before all of this," he said on Saturday. "I thought that I actually enjoyed the quiet, but I sort of realized that it's hard for me to bring the best out in myself without an atmosphere."

After the win he reiterated those thoughts: "I'm certainly glad that the crowds were back and I'm glad that I was able to get the job done in an atmosphere like that today. It was just an awesome experience to feel that again over the weekend."

Stats

In Strokes Gained McIlroy proved again that his long game loves the test, gaining over five strokes on the field with his Approach work for a third start in a row at Quail Hollow and completing a 100% course record for ranking top 12 Tee to Green.

But his SG Putting stats were a massive improvement: a Quail Hollow career-best gain of 6.945, top three in the field, and only the third time he has ranked top 20 on the greens.

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The future

After a week off McIlroy heads to Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship and, like Quail Hollow, it's a course he has fond memories of, winning the same tournament there by eight shots in 2012.

"It's certainly great timing," he said. "It's obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been.

"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."

McIlroy is best price 12/1 to win the 2021 PGA Championship with Unibet.

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