Foregone conclusion or not, the galleries persisted.
And for good reason, to be fair. It’s not every day you get to watch Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, right?
On a mostly star-less final day of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, where Max Homa outlasted the field to win his first PGA Tour event, McIlroy and Rose were the most mainstream names left in the conversation. They began Sunday two and three strokes back, respectively, giving each an outside chance at winning the tournament. It would take pure precision over the final 18 to do so, but a chance is a chance.
Or at least it was for a while.
“Going into today,” Rose said after his final round, “was always a bit of a long shot to win it.”
Now, give Rose some credit: He enhanced his opportunity with birdies on No. 7, No. 8 and then No. 10 to move to 3-under on the day. Only then, he reeled off eight straight pars. Had he not left birdie putts short on the last two holes, he might have ramped up the pressure on Homa, but that never materialized.
McIlroy, meanwhile, started his day with eight frustrating pars before a bogey on No. 9 and a double bogey on No. 10 sunk his hopes of winning at Quail Hollow a third time.
And yet, even when Homa’s impending victory was all but guaranteed, the crowd gravitated to those two stars like moths to a patio light. That typical shuffle of fans running from hole to hole is usually reserved for winners and Tiger Woods on Sundays, but McIlroy and Rose were an exception.
Considering their late-day company — Homa, Jason Dufner, Pat Perez and Joel Dahmen — had eight PGA wins combined between them, you can sort of understand why.
“Max, every credit to him,” Rose said. “He kind of stayed with it today.”
For Rose, even finishing third at 11-under for this tournament counted as a success. The former No. 1 player in the world was making his first start since missing the cut at the Masters in the middle of April, and while not perfect, he made his improvements since then clear.
Rose said a weekend like this, considering the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in New York is just two weeks away, is crucial to showing well at the major.
“It was like a workweek,” he said. “Every round I earned. But that makes the result like this actually really satisfying.
“Sometimes you finish third and you feel like, ‘Oh, it’s a missed opportunity,’ but this didn’t really feel like that for me. And it gives me a platform to build on now.”
As for McIlroy, he never quite found the same rhythm at Quail Hollow that he has in years past. In 2010, this was the site where he — like Homa on Sunday — recorded his first PGA Tour win. In 2015, he was even more dominant. That year, he set an 18-hole record of 61 and finished 21-under, seven strokes ahead of Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson.
But McIlroy admitted after his final round Sunday that he never got to that same point this weekend.
“The three-putt on No. 7 sort of derailed any momentum I had,” McIlroy said. “Finished well yesterday giving myself a chance going into today ... then my short game sort of cost me a few shots.”
Back at the clubhouse, as Rose was conducting his post-tournament interviews, the gallery at the green on No. 18 bellowed. Rose took notice. Conveniently enough, he was already in the middle of praising Homa when that final echo rang out.
“Maybe you expect the leaders to possibly make a bogey or two coming down the stretch, but he’s been rock solid today, so every credit to him.” Then the roar.
“I think he’s just hit the fairway at 18 and pretty much sewn it up.