Rory McIlroy turns 29 Friday and would like to be granted a simple wish. When I asked him what his birthday plans would be, he said: “Hopefully, go out and shoot a 62.”
For most people, this would be a throwaway line that everyone knows has no chance of happening – sort of like saying you were going to climb Mount Everest on your birthday. For McIlroy, though, it is quite possible.
McIlroy shot a final-round 62 to win his first Wells Fargo Championship in 2010. Then he shot a 61 – bettering his course record – in 2015 on the way to his second victory in the tournament.
On Thursday, McIlroy had a relatively low-profile 68, putting him on the leader board but not at the top of it after a single round. He was happy with the score, though, given an uneven performance the day before in practice.
“I would have taken 68 before I went out there,” McIlroy said after his round. “My game felt a little bit rusty in the pro-am yesterday and I didn’t play that well. ...(Today) I hit the ball much better, drove it much better, and the course is a little easier than it was last August in the PGA. Even if you don’t hit it quite so well, you can still get away with it most times.”
The last time the golfing world saw McIlroy he was playing in the final group at the Masters in April, trying to complete the career grand slam. Instead, McIlroy never could catch Patrick Reed and shot a final-round 74, betrayed by a recalcitrant putter.
This is the first time McIlroy has played since that disappointment, which took awhile to get over. What did he do?
“I went back home and sort of decompressed,” McIlroy said. “Binge-watched a couple of shows. Read a couple of books. Drank a few bottles of wine.”
'It fits my eye'
The books, in case you were wondering, were “The Chimp Paradox” and “Essentialism.” One of the shows was “Billions.” The wine went unnamed.
McIlroy almost always plays well at Quail Hollow Club, and as the Wells Fargo Championship’s only two-time winner he probably attracts a bigger gallery than any golfer not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
“It’s one of those golf courses that sets up well for me,” McIlroy said of Quail Hollow. “It fits my eye.”
McIlroy is known among his fellow pros as being capable of the sort of dynamic scores that Tiger used to post in his prime. “He’s explosive,” fellow pro Jason Day said of McIlroy.
McIlroy’s 21-under-par score of 267 in 2015 may stand as a record for the this tournament for a long time. McIlroy points out that since par is 71 now, a 267 would only get you to 17 under.
What score will it take to win in 2018?
“I would say you need to get to double digits under par this week to have a chance,” McIlroy said.
A party on Sunday?
McIlroy caused a bit of controversy this week in Charlotte when he not only called the Masters “the biggest golf tournament in the world” but also seemed to denigrate two other major championships in the process. As McIlroy continued to talk about the Masters being the “most special tournament that we play” on Wednesday, he also said: “I don’t care about the U.S. Open or The (British) Open championship.”
McIlroy backtracked on that Thursday, saying that while he did believe the Masters was the best that “I care deeply about those other (tournaments). I’m a proud winner of both of those tournaments. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful at all.”
As for that 29th birthday, McIlroy said a proper party would be held after the tournament was over – if he wins.
“It’s a golf tournament that I’m here to play,” McIlroy said. “And if I happen to do well on Sunday and things go the right way, I’ll celebrate on Sunday night.”