Rory McIlroy is thinking his decision to play in the Wells Fargo Championship might have been a pretty good one.
McIlroy, the world’s top-ranked player who didn’t have Charlotte’s tournament on his schedule when the PGA Tour season began, cruised to an easy victory during Sunday’s final round at Quail Hollow Club, dominating the field in a way no other player has in the Wells Fargo’s 13-year history.
Quail Hollow has never seen anything like how McIlroy played over the tournament’s four perfectly sun-splashed days. In becoming the tournament’s first two-time champion, McIlroy finished with a tournament-record 21-under par for a 267 total, breaking by five strokes the old mark set in 2008 by Anthony Kim.
McIlroy’s seven-shot advantage over Charlotte’s Webb Simpson and youngster Patrick Rodgers – who tied for second – was another record.
“It’s always nice to see your name up on top,” said McIlroy, who won for the 11th time in his career. “It’s a great momentum builder going into the thick of the season.”
And to think that barely a month ago, McIlroy was planning on thinning out this portion of the season by skipping the Quail Hollow tournament, which he won in 2010 for his first victory as a pro.
The Wells Fargo was temporarily moved two weeks back on this year’s schedule, placing it behind two other of the PGA Tour’s more significant tournaments – the World Golf Championships Match Play and The Players Championship. McIlroy, who won the match play, had planned to skip the Wells Fargo to rest up before playing in two tournaments in England and Ireland. He would then begin to prepare for June’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington.
But after the Masters in April, McIlroy had a change of heart about Quail Hollow.
“(Wells Fargo) was never on my schedule,” McIlroy said. “Where it fell, I felt it was going to be very difficult to come and play. I could have given my best, but then maybe the two tournaments after that in Europe would have suffered a little bit because I might have been tired, not at my best.”
McIlroy felt he was playing well after the Masters and wanted to improve his position in the FedEx Cup standings. So he decided to come to Charlotte, telling reporters of his plans during the match play in San Francisco. He didn’t officially commit until just hours before the Wells Fargo entry deadline of 5 p.m. on May 8, the Friday before the tournament began.
It was a decision that paid off.
After Robert Streb and Simpson took turns leading the tournament on Thursday and Friday, McIlroy took control Saturday with a course-record 61, a round during which he broke or tied four other tournament marks.
He started Sunday four strokes ahead of Simpson, who was playing on his home course in front of friends and family.
But McIlroy never allowed Simpson – or anyone else – close. Simpson birdied the second hole and briefly cut McIlroy’s margin to three. Rodgers got to within three strokes also after an eagle on No. 10 and a birdie on No. 11.
Other than that, McIlroy’s lead was never in question. It was only a matter of how many strokes would he win by.
“You have to set your own goals, and you have to motivate yourself to reach those,” McIlroy said of the challenges of playing with such a commanding lead. “I set myself a goal (Sunday) of trying to birdie all the par-5s and birdie the two drivable par-4s (the eighth and 14th). If I made six birdies right there, there was a good chance nobody was going to catch me.”
McIlroy wasn’t quite able to do that – with pars on the par-5 10th and 15th and a par on No. 8. But it didn’t matter.
Simpson wasn’t up to the task of chasing down McIlroy, even after the birdie on No. 2, when he putted in from the fringe from 33 feet. McIlroy then made the first of his two bogeys for the day, giving Simpson a sliver of hope.
“It was a good feeling to get a couple of shots back that I didn’t expect,” Simpson said. “But it was so early.”
In any other year, either Simpson and Rodgers (who got in the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption) might have been an easy winner. Only four other golfers – McIlroy this year and in 2010 (15 under), Kim in 2008 (16 under) and Jonathan Byrd and Lucas Glover in 2011 (15 under) – have gone lower than 14 under at Quail Hollow.
But, thanks to McIlroy – the best player in the world playing at his best – this wasn’t an ordinary year.