How could anyone have ever doubted him? Rory McIlroy returned from the wilderness with the strut of someone full of self-belief, as the Northern Irishman – some 553 days since his last win on the PGA Tour - spun his own brand of magic on the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, to end his winning drought.
Whether it was with driver or putter in hand, or excavating recovery shots from sand bunkers, or using his imagination from behind trees, McIlroy took it all in his stride in fashioning a closing round 68 for a total of 10-under-par 274, to claim a one stroke winning margin over Abraham Ancer and added €1.2 million to his bank balance.
McIlroy, who started the final round two shots adrift of 54-hole leader Keith Mitchell, didn't take long to make inroads. On the third, he hit his approach to seven feet and rolled in the birdie putt and, then, added another birdie from 25 feet on the seventh. Mitchell, for his part, had claimed a three shot lead with a birdie on the first but was undone by back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth as he was thrown into defensive mode.
But McIlroy stuck to the task at hand, his fist pump following a par save on the Par 3 13th providing evidence that sometimes pars are as valuable a commodity as any birdies. McIlroy followed that par save with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th to regain the initiative and he had a two stroke lead standing on the 18th tee . . . only for added drama to be provided, as a pulled drive saw his ball finish in thick grass inside the hazard line.
McIlroy weighed up his options with caddie Harry Diamond, deciding to take a penalty drop and then hitting an eight-iron approach to the green. Two putts from 43 feet led to his only bogey of his closing round but it was sufficient to get the job done and claim a 19th career title on the PGA Tour. Next up for McIlroy is next week's US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he won that Major back in 2012.
“It is never easy to win, it has felt like a long time since that win in China. The world is a completely different place, with the pandemic. It just feels awesome, to break the drought and win here again is awesome,” said McIlroy. “I feel off the energy so much, the crowd really carried me through.”
For Bryson DeChambeau, it proved to be an eventful weekend: the US Open champion had departed Charlotte on Friday convinced he had missed the cut and returned home to Dallas in Texas, only to discover he had survived and made a middle-of-the-night private flight back to North Carolina and claimed a top-10 finish.
“It was worth it, no doubt was worth it,” said DeChambeau of chartering a flight back. “That’s what I was hoping to do this weekend when I was on that plane at 2.45am. Yeah, I wanted to make it worth it. I didn’t want to come out here and finish 60 whatever, close to last. Even at that, it’s still FedExCup points, it’s still world ranking points. I was pleased to have come back and finished, keep moving up the world rankings.
“The goal is obviously to be number one and I want to be at the Olympics, so we’ll keep moving forward in the right direction.”
Niall Kearney was on 59 watch coming down the stretch of the Canary Islands Championship at Adeje in Tenerife, where the 33-year-old Dubliner eventually ultimately signed for a closing 61 for 19-under-par 265 which gave him a career-best tied-fourth finish on the European Tour and earned him a €51,014 payday and jumped him under 73 places to 99th on the Race to Dubai standings. South Africa's Garrick Higgo won his second tournament in three weeks.
“I felt something was brewing, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward,” said Kearney, who has earned a place in the field for this week’s British Masters at the Belfry, outside Birmingham, England.
Wells Fargo Championship - Quail Hollow, Charlotte, North Carolina
Par 71 (USA unless stated, Irish in bold)
274 - Rory McIlroy 72 66 68 68
275 - Abraham Ancer (Mex) 69 70 70 66
276 - Viktor Hovland (Nor) 69 72 68 67, Keith Mitchell 67 71 66 72
277 - Gary Woodland 67 69 70 71
279 - Patrick Reed 71 69 69 70, Matt Wallace (Eng) 69 67 73 70, Luke List 67 72 68 72
280 - Aaron Wise 72 71 68 69, Bryson DeChambeau 70 74 68 68
281 - Scott Piercy 70 68 73 70, Ben Martin 69 71 72 69, Satoshi Kodaira
282 - Xander Schaufele 72 71 68 71, Charl Schwartzel (SA) 71 71 70 70, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 67 75 70 70, Emilano Grillo (Arg) 74 66 72 70
288 - Séamus Power 71 72 75 70
290 - Shane Lowry 71 73 75 71