Rory McIlroy in the Wells Fargo Championship: He loves the event, but does a new course change that?

The Northern Irishman claimed a third triumph at the Quail Hollow Club last year, but this week the tournament moves to TPC Potomac.

If we'd listened, Rory McIlroy more or less told us that he'd win the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship two years earlier.

"I love this place," he said of host course Quail Hollow in 2019. "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 of 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, he spent the week making 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 win last year and then consider his chances this week.

The Quail Hollow magic

10 top 25 finishes, eight of them top 10s, one playoff defeat and three victories - there are many professional golfers who would be content to reap such returns in an entire career.

McIlroy has achieved it on one layout (Quail Hollow) 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."

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 two months leading up to the win.

"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.

"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."


They were very, very good.

The bad news

Later this season Quail Hollow plays host to the Presidents Cup and therefore the Wells Fargo Championship moves to TPC Potomac for one year only.

The usual venue is a wonderful fit for McIlroy imperious driving so how will Potomac suit? The good news is that the last winner on the course, Francesco Molinari in the 2018 Quicken Loans National, ranked first for SG Tee to Green and seventh for SG Off the Tee and the winner before him (Kyle Stanley) was first in both categories. The bad news is the par is 70 - and generally McIlroy likes four par-5s to get his teeth into.

What about form? He's won once since this time last year (in October's CJ Cup). Will he maintain the momentum of his runner-up finish at the Masters last month?

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