Rory McIlroy won his third title at the place he says he loves more than any other - just two weeks before the PGA Championship returns to a course with fond memories for the four-time major champion
Hello. Welcome to this week’s edition of The Slam. And what a week it’s been for Rory McIlroy.
He celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday and 24 hours later the chair of the PGA Tour’s Players Advisory Council was the star of the show as the pre-tournament press conferences at the Wells Fargo Championship were dominated by talk of the Super Golf League – a Saudi-backed venture that looks set to rival the Premier Golf League as the biggest threat to the status quo.
McIlroy spurned the PGL’s advances and he told anyone who would listen at Quail Hollow that he would do the same with the SGL. A “money grab”, he called it, before insisting that he’s happy where he is. And why wouldn’t he be? With Tiger Woods currently out of the picture, he’s easily the Tour’s biggest draw.
That night his neck locked up and he almost withdrew from the tournament. It would have compounded a miserable few weeks for McIlroy, who has dropped as low as 15 in the world rankings after missed cuts at both the Players and Masters sandwiched an early exit at the WGC-Match Play.
“Now here I am with the trophy,” he said on Sunday after a two-shot win over Abraham Ancer at Quail Hollow, a win that moves him back into the top 10. Seven, to be precise.
It didn’t come without difficulty, though. McIlroy started the final day two back of Keith Mitchell and stood on the 18th two ahead. Then he did the one thing you don’t do on the 18th at Quail – he tugged it left.
He took a drop after expert advice from his loyal bagman Harry Diamond and made his five.
It’s McIlroy’s first victory for 18 months to end the longest drought of his career. It’s also his third here – the first time he’s won the same event more than three times. It’s his first win as a father, and the perfect present for wife Erica on her first Mother’s Day. However you look at it, it’s a lovely story.
And the timing couldn’t be better as the Northern Irishman prepares to end the winless streak he’s more desperate to end than any other and get back on the major-winning trail at the PGA Championship in a fortnight.
McIlroy’s been stuck on four since winning the same tournament in 2014 and it just so happens in two weeks the Wanamaker returns to Kiawah Island, the scene of his record-breaking eight-shot win nine years ago. (Has it really been nine years?)
Back then, McIlroy used to bound around golf courses like an excitable puppy. And that spring was back in his step at Quail. The reason? Fans. And atmosphere. Cries of “Rory! Rory! Rory!” echoed around this corner of North Carolina all week. One even told him he has “a nice butt”, which got a smile out of the champion elect.
“I’ve missed it,” he explained. “I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did, but I really have.
“I feed off the energy and they really carried me through this.”
A return of the roars and the return of Rors.
They’ll be back in force at Kiawah. Would you bet against them cheering him onto number five?
This week on Planet Bryson
Bryson DeChambeau flew back to Dallas on Friday evening after a missed cut at Quail Hollow.
Nothing unusual there – except he hadn’t missed the cut.
It meant he had to scramble a private jet back to North Carolina before his tee time on Saturday.
A pair of weekend 68s and a cheque for just shy of $230,000 should over the costs for the World No 5.
“I really didn’t want to disappoint Wells Fargo and Quail Hollow and the guys who put up this tournament and give so much to charity,” DeChambeau, who added that he briefly considered withdrawing when he realised his mistake, explained.
Walker Cup agony for GB&I
After heavy defeats in the last two Walker Cups there was a lot riding on the Great Britain and Ireland team at Seminole this week. Most of it pride.
And what a match it was at Seminole, where the USA’s 14-12 victory wasn’t confirmed until the very last match, with Stewart Hagestad beating Ben Jones 4&2.
Cole Hammer’s 4&3 win over GB&I’s biggest star, Ben Schmidt, in the penultimate singles match had already confirmed that the hosts would retain their title.
After thumping wins in the last two outings – USA cruised 19-7 in 2017 and 15.5-10.5 two years later – this performance will be a huge boost when GB&I tee up on their rivals at the Old Course in 2023.
Higgo at the double
The Canary Islands Swing at the 11th hour when other events were cancelled – and boy did it work out for Garrick Higgo, who headed to Spain with one European Tour win on his CV and left three weeks later with three.
The South African captured the Canary Islands Championship to add to the Gran Canaria Open two weeks before.
Higgo, whose victories sandwiched an eighth-place finish at the Tenerife Open, played the three events in a frankly preposterous 68-under-par – and even notched a first career hole-in-one on Sunday…
Next up for Higgo is a major championship debut at the PGA Championship.
No place like home
Former World No 1 Ariya Jutanugarn’s run without a title lasted almost three years. All she needed was a bit of home comforts.
Jutanugarn won the LPGA Honda Thailand thanks to a stunning Sunday 63 to finish at 21-under-par and edge out teenage sensation Atthaya Thitikul by a single shot.
Right, I’m off to lump my life savings on McIlroy to win the PGA Championship. See you next week.