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At Quail Hollow, Rory McElroy played like he owned the course -- he did

Rory McIlroy pumps his fist after making birdie on the 16th green during third round action in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club Saturday.
Rory McIlroy pumps his fist after making birdie on the 16th green during third round action in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club Saturday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Wells Fargo Championship Saturday was less about competition than it was a coronation. Rory McIlroy moved around Quail Hollow Club with such ease that he could have been playing miniature golf. The windmill, the paper mache giraffe, the waterfall and even the clown mouth perplexed him not at all.

The most critical statement you can make about McIlroy’s game in is that he failed to birdie 1, 2, 4, 6, 11, 17 and 18.

Everything else he birdied. He birdied nine of 10 holes and set a Wells Fargo Championship record with 11 birdies. He set a single round record with a 61. He set a three-day tournament record with a 198.

He leads second-place Webb Simpson, who is a mere 14 strokes under, by four strokes.

The weather was perfect for golf or anything else, the high 85 degrees, the wind a gentle 7 to 12 mph. The course was set up to accommodate low scores, and the field complied. Five players shot at least 10 under par and 13 shot at least eight under.

But Quail Hollow has never been so user friendly that it was set up for a 61.

"He overpowers the golf course," says Will MacKenzie, who played with McIlroy. "He free swings everything."

Many of us love underdogs, and earlier Saturday they thrived. Justin Thomas, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, shot a 30 on the front nine. He would finish with a 65, which left him nine under.

After his round Thomas, a mere 22, was asked about becoming another first-time Wells Fargo winner. Other golfers who won their first tournament at Quail Hollow include Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Derek Ernst and, five years ago, McIlroy.

Thomas went out 2 hours and 50 minutes before McIlroy Saturday so asking him about winning the tournament was reasonable at the time.

When McIlroy finished, the question had ceased to be reasonable. He led Thomas by nine strokes.

When McIlroy finished, there was no reason to talk about underdogs. As much as we like them -- and I love them -- we also like to see the best players in the world do what they do best. On Saturday, we saw the best player in the world do what he does best. The 61 was his low score on the PGA Tour..

When McIlroy won in Charlotte five years ago, he shot a then course record 62. He was 21.

Sitting in front of 3½ bottles of water after his round, each of which he earned, McIlroy says: "Mentally I’m so much better. I’m … staying patient, not being afraid to go low."

"My mindset or my demeanor doesn’t change no matter what situation I’m in in a tournament or on a golf course," he says. "I think that’s the big difference. Five years of experience, five years of being out there, competing, winning Majors, losing Majors, you know, that’s the thing that really is the difference between who I am now and who I was five years ago."

Who will McIlroy be Sunday? Who will he be next week, next year or the year after that?

"I think he’s going to become the Tiger Woods," says MacKenzie. "I think he already has ... He is just a little bit better than everybody. People can beat him, (the) Jordan Spieths, plenty of guys that can beat him on any given week. When he’s on, he’s awesome."

You had as good a view as anybody Saturday. What did you take away?

"That he’s way better than me at golf," MacKenzie says.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com

twitter: @tomsorensen

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