Mickelson, McIlroy gain momentum into THE PLAYERS
May 08, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy each shot 6-under 66 in the final round at Quail Hollow Club. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
CHARLOTTE -- Their adventures on Quail Hollow's 18th hole this week notwithstanding, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson couldn't be more comfortable at the Wells Fargo Championship.
McIlroy has won the tournament twice and lost another opportunity in a playoff. While Mickelson is looking for that elusive first win, he has nine top-10s in 13 starts, including his second straight tie for fourth with, among others, McIlroy on Sunday.
This week's PLAYERS Championship has been more of a challenge, though. That's why both were pleased to ride the momentum of closing 66s with them to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida where the demanding Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass awaits.
Pete Dye's signature course has been an acquired taste for McIlroy. The world No. 3 missed the cut the first three times he played on the Pete Dye masterpiece but has posted top-10s in his last three starts.
"I finally accepted that I can't hit driver as much as I would like there," he said. "I've always felt that it was a golf course that handcuffed me a little bit. The things that give me an advantage over some of the field, you know, they don't really give me an advantage there.
"So the first few years I was quite stubborn and still trying to take on a lot of things instead of accepting the fact that I'm going to have to play the course the way everyone else plays it. If I'm going to beat them, I have to beat them with approach shots and good wedge play and putting."
Rory McIlroy interview following Round 4 of Wells Fargo
The Wells Fargo Championship was McIlroy's first start since the Masters. The 27-year-old was rusty, to be sure, for example playing the 18th in 4 over for the week with a bogey on Sunday, but he ranked second in driving distance and third in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green.
"It's been a good week in terms of I know what I need to work on, and I know the things that I am working on seem to be clicking nicely," McIlroy said. "But I'm pretty confident going into the next couple weeks. I feel like after a run like this I can go into Sawgrass and be pretty confident with where my game's at."
Mickelson said his closing 66 was especially important after he finished with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 18th hole Saturday. That gaffe dropped him from 5 under and just three back to a distant eight in arrears entering the final round of a tournament he desperately wants to win.
Mickelson has now played the 18th hole 52 times and he is 21 over. To be fair, it was the hardest hole this week on a course the big left-hander thinks is "sensational" and will host the PGA Championship next year.
"I played well today and I'm happy to have come back after yesterday's 8 on the last to shoot a good round," he said. "I feel like I've been hitting the ball well this week and playing some good golf, and unfortunately one hole is probably going to prevent me from having the success here that I'd like.
"But I played really well today and it feels good. I'll take a little momentum heading into next week."
Phil Mickelson works his magic from off the green at Wells Fargo
Mickelson's record at TPC Sawgrass is in stark contrast to the success he's had at Quail Hollow. He's played in 22 PLAYERS and did pick up one of his 42 wins there in 2007 but only has two other top 10s.
"I look back, I've struggled on that golf course over the years," Mickelson said. "It's a very difficult course to recover. To recover off the tee is very challenging because the penalties are so severe. Very difficult to recover around the greens because the shots are so tough around the greens.
"For me to have won that tournament, it means a lot to me. It's just underneath The Open Championship as far as surprise victories in my career."
The tight fairways and tiny greens at the Stadium Course place a premium on ball-striking which has never been Mickelson's forte. He didn't hit more than six fairways or 12 greens any day at Quail Hollow but did lead the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, which should be a boost.
"I'm going to have to play a little bit more defensive around THE PLAYERS because off the tee you've got to keep it in play, and around the greens you just want to get on the greens and they're so small," Mickelson said. "So the ability to recover like I did this week where I missed the ball a lot of times in the right spot, salvaged pars, you can't really do that next week."