A YEAR ago, Rory McIlroy arrived at Wentworth having just ended his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki. He’s still breaking hearts – those of his rivals – as he returns to the European Tour’s headquarters this week .
The world No 1 was more methodical than electrifying but it was still effective as he became the first two-time winner in the Wells Fargo Championship with a seven-shot victory over Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers.
Having taken the event by the scruff of the neck following a course-record 61 on Saturday, McIlory closed with a three-under 69 to finish at 21-under 267, shattering the tournament record by five strokes.
McIlroy also won the Match Play Championship two weeks ago in San Francisco and has 11 PGA Tour titles. He has six top-10 finishes in his last eight PGA Tour starts.
“Everything is firing on all cylinders for me,” said McIlroy before jumping on a plane to cross the Atlantic for his BMW PGA Championship defence starting on Thursday.
McIlroy won at Quail Hollow in 2010 for his first PGA Tour title, shooting 15 under. “The golf course just sets up really well for me,” he admitted.
Phil Mickelson called McIlroy’s performance this week “impressive”. McIlroy had another word to describe his play on the back nine.
“Boring,” he said with a laugh. “It was a more controlled run,” he added. “I feel like I’m a more controlled player these days. I’ve learned how to finish things off.”
Unlike his win in 2010, McIlroy didn’t finish in a flurry by carding 3s on the last six holes. On Sunday he played the last half-dozen holes in one-under. Then again, he didn’t really need to shoot lights out with nobody chasing him.
Rodgers, playing on a sponsor exemption, was the only player to mount any type of a challenge, getting within three shots after a birdie at No 15. But there was too much ground to make up, and he played the final two holes in 3-over and finished with a 68. Simpson shot a 72.
McIlroy almost didn’t play at Quail Hollow, but decided he needed to play more because he needed the FedEx Cup points after the Masters. The win moved him into third place in the standings.
McIlroy got off to a shaky start with a three-putt bogey on No 2 – his first in 167 holes – but quickly pulled it together. He didn’t have another bogey until the 17th hole, when he had built a seven-stroke lead and the outcome was already decided.
Simpson failed to capitalize on McIlroy’s early mistake, shooting 37 on the front nine that included a double bogey on the par-3 sixth when he three-putted from eight feet. That dropped the Charlotte resident six shots back and he was never in contention again.
“He’s our best player right now and I wish more than anything I could have shot a couple under on the front to make it more exciting,” Simpson said. “Just didn’t have it today.”
McIlroy reached 20 under on No 12 when he knocked his approach shot from 132 yards to two feet from the cup for a tap-in birdie and it looked as if he might coast the rest of the way.
But Rodgers, who earned his first top-25 finish on the PGA Tour, made it interesting when he played a seven-hole stretch in six-under par, sparked by an eagle on the par-5 10th hole. But McIlroy didn’t flinch when Rodgers drained a 15-foot putt on No 15 to pull within three shots of the lead.
Instead, McIlroy countered by rolling in a birdie putt of his own on No 14, moving to 21 under and regaining a four-shot cushion.
McIlroy then put an exclamation mark on the win by drilling his approach from 145 yards to three feet on No 16 for his tournament-record 27th birdie.
“I had a goal to go out there and birdie the par 5s and the two driveable par 4s and I knew, if I made six birdies, there was pretty much no chance that anybody could catch me,” McIlroy said. “With my length and the way I’m driving it, it’s a big advantage around here and it showed this week.” It also helped having a big lead. “You can pick and choose where you want to be aggressive,” McIlroy said.
Rodgers ran out of gas on No 17 when he dunked his tee shot in the water and took a double bogey to fall seven back. Still, it was a solid finish for Rodgers, who earned an automatic berth in The Colonial this week by virtue of his top-10 finish.
Martin Laird (71) and Russell Knox (72) finished 55th and 58th respectively.