Wells Fargo Championship
Rory runs away, Ancer keeps getting closer and Bubba spends some serious coin
It's no secret that Rory McIlroy can be honest to a fault, something we saw from him a number of times since the PGA Tour's restart. He wasn't making excuses, he was just truthfully offering reasons as to why he wasn't playing to his standards. The lack of fans and energy, chasing speed/Bryson DeChambeau, just straight up playing bad, etc. etc. There seemed to always be something.
But what McIlroy reminded us this week at Quail Hollow is that, no matter what—swing changes, lack of energy, whatever—his best, elite self is always lurking underneath the surface. The strut, that McIlroy bouncy strut is always a couple birdies away. Those couple of birdies came on his front nine Friday, at the 14th and 15th holes, and the Northern Irishman never looked back, bouncing his way to a one-stroke victory over Abraham Ancer, his third at the Wells Fargo Championship and his first since the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions.
"It's never easy, it's never easy to win out here," said McIlroy, who now has 19 PGA Tour victories. "It's felt like a long time since Shanghai, the world is in a completely different place, I'm in a different place. The pandemic, me becoming a dad. Thinking of Erica (McIlroy's wife), thinking of my mom back home. This is one of my favorite places in the world, so to win here was awesome."
The fans, of course, were key, as McIlroy was quick to point out in his post-round interview.
"When we first came back, I thought I'd enjoy the peace and quiet out here. But I quickly realized to bring out the best in myself I needed this, I feed off the energy so much, maybe here more so than anywhere else."
McIlroy's timing couldn't be more impeccable, with Kiawah Island, site of his 2012 PGA Championship win, hosting the 2021 PGA in two weeks time. The U.S. Open at Torrey pines lurks too, as does the Ryder Cup, where McIlroy thrives off the energy from both the home fans and the away fans. Safe to say, McIlroy is very much back, and he's right on time.
Here are other takeaways from Sunday's final round at Quail Hollow.
That was a hell of an effort from Abraham Ancer
On the "Be Right" podcast earlier this week (shameless plug), Abraham Ancer preached patience, knowing his time is going to eventually come as long as he keeps knocking on the door. It's going to be tough to keep that mindset after Sunday, when Ancer did just about everything required to win a PGA Tour event on a Sunday. He shot a bogey-free 66, which included a birdie-birdie-birdie stretch at 15, 16 and 17 that tied him for the lead.
Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough, though it did earn him solo second, which marks the fourth time he's finished runner-up since 2019. There are some serious Tony Finau vibes going on with Ancer, which is a compliment even if it doesn't sound like it. Ancer will surely stay patient, and it feels like the win is coming, but as Finau has proven, it ain't easy to close the deal no matter how many cracks you get.
Two things did in Keith Mitchell, who began the day with a two-stroke lead over McIlroy and ended it in a tie for third after a 72. First, his par-5 performance was subpar, and not the kind of subpar that’s in the red. Quail Hollow has three par 5s and Mitchell birdied exactly none of them on Sunday.
Take your pick on which was the worst of them but on the seventh hole Mitchell’s lag putt from 65 feet came up woefully short. Having to clear a ridge to get the ball to then run down toward the hole, he came up painfully short and the pall petered out well short and to the right, settling 20 feet away.
Then there was his chipping.
Off a tight lie 45 feet from the hole and with the green running away from him on the fifth hole, Mitchell elected to chip instead of putt and shot his ball 18 feet past the flag. Bogey. One hole later, his pitch from left of the par 3 was scoopy and came up 13 feet short. Another bogey.
On the reachable par-4 eighth, Mitchell’s pitch from the left rough came out chunky, leaving him a two-putt from 38 feet. And on 14, where he’d driven it just short of the green on the par 4, it was a carbon copy of the fifth, the ball scooting 20 feet by. The final blow came at 17, where a chip from right of the par 3 ran 7 feet past and he missed the putt coming back.
“There's a couple stretches; No. 5 through No. 8, I didn't capitalize on anything and actually lost some shots when I felt like I hit some good shots,” he said. “Then fought back and hit some great shots on 14, 15 and 16 and came out with three pars there and that's, you know, those are the holes, 14 and 15, you really need to take advantage of and if I had done that, I felt it might have been a little different.”
Mitchell was just one of two players in the top 10 to shoot over par on Sunday. McIlroy was the other.
Jared C. Tilton
Bubba Watson spent some serious coin on 17 and 18
Bubba Watson has plenty of money and plenty of PGA Tour wins, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when you throw away a huge chunk of change late on a Sunday. That’s exactly what happened when Watson, who had reached six under to pull within a few of the lead, completely imploded on the final two holes at Quail Hollow. We’re talking triple-double to finish, folks, which is great in hoops but disastrous in golf.
Brutal. At the par-3 17th Watson only got wet once, but had to drop it 130 yards away and hit it over the water again. He put it to 61 feet and three-putted from there for a six. At 18, which has given everybody fits all week, he got wet off the tee again, eventually making another six. In two holes, he went from the top five to T-18, a difference of around $200,000. Sheeeeesh. Again, we think Bubba will be fine, but that still has to sting.
Apologize to Brad Faxon, cowards
Yeah, you know who you are. For those who have no idea what we're referring to, Brad Faxon, one of the great putters ever, revealed his "top 10 putters" ever list on Twitter earlier this week. The list is completely his opinion, but when you post it on social media you better be prepared to hear a million more opinions, too. One of the glaring omissions on Faxon's list was Jordan Spieth, and one of the most puzzling inclusions for many was McIlroy, who Faxon has worked with before, so he was clearly biased.
Then again, McIlroy is a great putter, at least he once was in his majors-winning hey day. He was elite this week with the flat stick, too, gaining nearly seven strokes on the greens, his best putting performance since ... wait for it ... the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he won and made everything in sight. When he's rolling it, he really might be an all-time great with the putter. For that, we all owe Faxon an apology.
Woodland on the way back
Gary Woodland’s fifth-place finish was his best since a T-5 at last July’s Workday Charity Open. It’s especially promising given the ups and downs the 2019 U.S. Open winner has endured working his way back from a hip injury that plagued him for much of last year.
In Woodland’s last 20 starts he has missed the cut eight times and withdrawn once.
Sunday, though, he found himself tied for the lead after a birdie on the eighth (his second in a row). It didn’t last, thanks to errant tee shots on 12 and 13 that led to bogeys. Then he wasn’t able to get up and down from the sand on the reachable 14th, where he settled for par, and nuked his shot over the green on the par-5 15th and again wasn’t able to get up-and-down and again settled for par.
Still, there was a lot to take from the week.
“I just feel better,” said Woodland, who shot 71 on Sunday. “Walking on the fairway, [my caddie] even said that walking today, just nice to see me back to where I belong playing the way I'm supposed to be playing. That part's exciting.”