Rory McIlroy hangs on to win Wells Fargo ChampionshipEdges Abraham Ancer by one, ends win drought of a year and a half
May 09, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy wins 19th PGA TOUR title at 2021 Wells Fargo
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy’s eyes welled with tears as he considered what he’d done, and what it all meant. So much had changed, and yet he was still here, still himself and still a force to be reckoned with between the ropes, especially at Quail Hollow.
After some anxious moments on the 18th hole, McIlroy salvaged a bogey for a 3-under 68 that left him at 10 under par and one ahead of Abraham Ancer (66) at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Viktor Hovland (67) and Keith Mitchell (72) tied for third.
“Yeah, this place has been good to me,” said McIlroy, whose drive wound up in the lateral hazard on the last hole, a position from which he did well to make bogey after taking a drop. “Ever since I first set eyes on this golf course, I loved it from the first time I played it, and that love has sort of been reciprocated back. I've played so well here over the years.”
He said he came close to not playing at all after hurting his neck while hitting a shot on the driving range Wednesday but had time to receive treatment before his late tee time Thursday.
“Progressively got a little bit better as the week went on,” he said.
Although he struggled a bit off the tee, hitting just three of 14 fairways Sunday, he still hit 14 greens and made up-and-downs from the sand to birdie 14 and 15. That was the difference.
“Shows you how awesome he is as a player,” Mitchell said, “because he didn't have his best today and he still won and that's why he's got majors and a bunch of wins. It's impressive watching that because he had to fight there today, too. The wind was gusting like crazy.”
It marked McIlroy’s 19th PGA TOUR victory, and his third at the Wells Fargo (2010, ’15, ’21). This also marks the first time he’s won a tournament three times, which he called “pretty cool,” and yet that seemed relatively unimportant next to the fact that he was winning at all.
It had been 553 days since McIlroy won the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. He came into the Wells Fargo at 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the lowest he’s been since late 2009, and 51st in the FedExCup. Some of his problems, he admitted, were self-inflicted.
He was rolling along nicely prior to the pandemic, but when the TOUR returned without fans on site last June, McIlroy had trouble summoning the requisite oomph for world-class golf. He and wife Erica had a daughter, Poppy, their first child, unquestionably the highlight of the year.
His forgettable golf got worse this season after Bryson DeChambeau bashed his way to victory at the U.S. Open and McIlroy decided to try and increase his swing speed. In so doing he lost his swing. After a final-round 76 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (T10, eight behind DeChambeau) in March, he said he was “dejected” and “maybe looking to go in a different direction.”
Soon he was working with Pete Cowen, and it was the first time he’s listed someone other than Michael Bannon as his primary coach. He said it was for the long-term good of his career, and the swing changes might take, “a bit of time.” He missed cuts at THE PLAYERS Championship and the Masters, took a vacation to the Bahamas, came home, kept grinding.
Quail Hollow, though, is McIlroy’s happy place. In 10 starts at the Wells Fargo he now has eight top-10 finishes, including three wins. He shot a course-record 62 to win going away in 2010 and broke his own record with a 61 in his 2015 victory. He seems to win here every five years whether he needs it or not. (There was no tournament in 2020 or he surely would have won it.)
With the victory, he has now won on Father’s and Mother’s Day, and there, just off the 18th green and in a floppy sun hat, was wife Erica cradling Poppy. He bent down to give them a celebratory kiss, the scene further underlining that this was a changed McIlroy. This was his first win as a dad, and his first with new coach Cowen. He’s been working with sports psychologist Bob Rotella for the last few months. And living through the pandemic has changed us all.
First win as a dad.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 9, 2021
First Mother's Day for Erica McIlroy. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/l3R6OB6ctY
Now, though, he’s looking forward to some consistency – a swing and some swing thoughts that he can fall back on under pressure. He showed a glimmer of that on Sunday.
“I had a couple of things to fall back on,” McIlroy said, “which was really important, especially under pressure. Needing to hit good shots down the stretch, I had a couple of very playable swing thoughts that I've had all week. Pete and I did some good work last week in Florida.”
When those swings produced pars on 16 and 17, and limited the damage on 18, it was over. He blinked back tears in his interview on CBS because of relief and satisfaction, yes, but also recognition. Even with so much change, there he was, Rory McIlroy winning at Quail Hollow again.
“I felt good about my game coming in here,” he said, “but I wasn't expecting to come and win first week straight out again. It's satisfying to see the work is paying off, but it's just the start. There's so much more I want to achieve and so much more I want to do in the game.”