It’s no secret that Rory McIlroy can be honest to a fault, something we saw from him a number of times since the PGA Tour’s resumption last June. He wasn’t making excuses, he was just truthfully offering reasons as to why he wasn’t playing to his standards. The lack of fans and energy, chasing speed/Bryson DeChambeau, just straight up playing bad, etc, etc. There seemed to always be something.
But what McIlroy reminded us this week at Quail Hollow is that, no matter what – swing changes, lack of energy, whatever – his best, elite self is always lurking underneath the surface. The strut, that McIlroy bouncy strut is always only a couple of birdies away. Those couple of birdies came on his front nine on Friday, at the 14th and 15th holes, and the Northern Irishman never looked back, bouncing his way to a one-stroke victory over Abraham Ancer, his third at the Wells Fargo Championship and his first since the 2019 WGC–HSBC Champions.
“It’s never easy, it’s never easy to win out here,” said McIlroy, who now has 19 PGA Tour victories. “It’s felt like a long time since Shanghai. The world is in a completely different place, I’m in a different place. The pandemic, me becoming a dad. Thinking of Erica [McIlroy’s wife], thinking of my mum back home. This is one of my favourite places in the world, so to win here was awesome.”
The fans, of course, were key, as McIlroy was quick to point out in his post-round interview.
“When we first came back, I thought I’d enjoy the peace and quiet out here. But I quickly realised to bring out the best in myself I needed this, I feed off the energy so much, maybe here more so than anywhere else.”
McIlroy’s timing couldn’t be more impeccable, with Kiawah Island, site of his 2012 PGA Championship win, hosting the 2021 PGA in two weeks time. The US Open at Torrey Pines lurks too, as does the Ryder Cup, where McIlroy thrives off the energy from both the home fans and the away fans. Safe to say, McIlroy is very much back, and he’s right on time.
Here are three other takeaways from the final round at Quail Hollow.
That was a hell of an effort from Abraham Ancer
Earlier this week Abraham Ancer preached patience, knowing his time is going to eventually come as long as he keeps knocking on the door. It’s going to be tough to keep that mindset after today, when Ancer did just about everything required to win a PGA Tour event on a final day. He shot a bogey-free 66, which included a birdie-birdie-birdie stretch at 15, 16 and 17 that tied him for the lead. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough, though it did earn him outright second, which marks the fourth time he’s finished runner-up since 2019. There are some serious Tony Finau vibes going on with Ancer, which is a compliment even if it doesn’t sound like it. Ancer will surely stay patient, and it feels like the win is coming, but as Finau has proven, it ain’t easy to close the deal no matter how many cracks you get.
Bubba Watson spent some serious coin on 17 and 18
Bubba Watson has plenty of money and plenty of PGA Tour wins, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when you throw away a huge chunk of cash late on a Sunday. That’s exactly what happened when Watson, who had reached six-under to pull within a few of the lead, completely imploded on the final two holes at Quail Hollow. We’re talking triple-double to finish, folks, which is great in basketball but disastrous in golf.
Brutal. At the par-3 17th Watson only got wet once, but had to drop it 120 metres away and hit it over the water again. He put it to 61 feet and three-putted from there for a 6. At 18, which gave everybody fits all week, he got wet off the tee again, eventually making another 6. In two holes, he went from the top five to T-18, a difference of about $US200,000. Sheeeeesh. Again, we think Bubba will be fine, but that still has to sting.
Apologise to Brad Faxon, cowards
Yeah, you know who you are. For those who have no idea what we’re referring to, Brad Faxon, one of the great putters ever, revealed his “top 10 putters” ever list on Twitter last week. The list is completely his opinion, but when you post it on social media you better be prepared to hear a million more opinions, too. One of the glaring omissions on Faxon’s list was Jordan Spieth, and one of the most puzzling inclusions for many was Rory McIlroy, who Faxon has worked with before, so he was clearly biased.
Then again, McIlroy is a great putter, at least he once was in his Majors-winning heyday. He was elite this week with the flatstick, too, gaining nearly seven strokes on the greens, his best putting performance since… wait for it… the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he won and made everything in sight. When he’s rolling it, he really might be an all-time great with the putter. For that, we all owe Faxon an apology.
FEATURED IMAGE: Jared C. Tilton