World No. 1 Rory McIlroy stormed his way to a second Wells Fargo Championship success, a second victory in three weeks, a third triumph this season and the 18th win of his professional career.
Never has McIroy in his seven-year odd time in the play-for-pay ranks won three times in the first half of a year.
And a fortnight after joining Jack Nicklaus and Tigers with 10 victories prior to his 26th birthday McIlroy was on the verge of becoming the winningest non-American with the most PGA Tour victories before the age of 30 and surpassing South African great Gary Player’s feat of 10 victories.
Victory on a very hot Spring Sunday in suburban Charlotte is McIlroy’s 11th PGA Tour success in his 94th start on the Tour at age 26 years, 13 days.
McIlroy continued to be in a class all his own heading into the final round leading by four shots on the back of a new Quail Hollow course record 61 on day three, and also his lowest round as a professional.
There was an early fourth round hiccup for the four-time Major winner when McIlroy three-putted from near 60-feet at the second. It was his first three-putt in 167 holes and a first dropped shot since McIlroy posted a double bogey at his penultimate hole on Thursday.
However McIlroy regained a firm grip on the Wells Fargo victory stage coach leading reins when he birdied the par five fifth hole for a fourth day running before moving to 19-under par when he birdied the seventh for a third occasion.
McIlroy headed to the inward half four of his rivals having seen over Phil Mickelson’s run of three straight birdies from the fifth and with Mickelson dropping off the victory radar with back-to-back bogeys early into his back nine.
Mickelson ended his round with a 68 to be in the clubhouse on 12-under par and when asked about McIlroy’s performance he had just two words: “Very impressive”.
The Ulsterman’s only threat was Indiana’s Patrick Rodgers and local Quail Hollow resident and fellow U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson who owns a house along the seventh fairway.
Rodgers brilliantly moved to within five when he birdied nine, eagled 10 and birdied 11, and while Rodgers also birdied the 14th to bridge the gap to four at 16-under par, McIlroy didn’t need anyone riding shotgun.
But when McIlroy went to ‘The Green Mile’ and the toughest closing three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour and four clear the victory writing was already on the wall, and with McIlroy racing to a seven-shot leading cushion with a birdie at 16 from three feet and after Rodgers had moments earlier doubled the same hole
And with the 2017 PGA Championship to be staged at Quail Hollow Scotland’s Martin Laird, who lives just 90 minutes from the course, suggested organisers of the Major should etch McIlroy’s name now on the gleaming Rodman Wanamaker Trophy, and a trophy McIlroy’s won twice and will again defend in just over three months.
“The way Rory’s played this course in his career recording his two lowest rounds of the Tour here at Quail Hollow they should be etching his name onto the PGA Championship trophy now given we’re back here for the event in two years,” said Laird.
“It’s like he’s playing a different golf course all together compared to the majority of the field.”
Delighting in watching McIlroy from behind the ropes for a fourth day was two of his closest friends in Ricky McCormick and Mitchell Tweedie.
In fact, McCormick and now a professional at McIlroy’s beloved Holywood Club had caddied for McIlroy when the then 16-year old shot a 61 during the 2015 North of Ireland Amateur.
And after the three along with McIlroy’s caddy and manager had dined out at the local Del Frisco’s bar and restaurant in Charlotte for a second night running, McIlroy spoke of the value of having his best friends as support.
“It’s always nice having two of my best mates out with me on Tour, and yesterday was special for Ricky as he was my caddy when I shot that 61 at Royal Portrush,” said McIlroy.
“This golf course sets up perfectly for me and I had a goal today to go out and birdie the par fives and the two driveable par fours and I knew if I made six birdies there was pretty much no chance of anyone catching me,” he said.
“With my length and the way I feel I have been driving the ball it’s a big advantage and it showed this week.
“Back in 2012 when I first got to World No. 1, I felt I got a bit complacent but I have been working as hard as I can and try to be the best I can be. That has helped me get over any complacency.
“But to win here for a second time and to be the first player to win the championship for a second time is pretty special right now.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved