Fairways And Roughs Title

Rory McIlroy returns to familiar territory at Quail Hollow

By PGA Tour News
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Imagine the feeling when you arrive home and sit on your favorite couch after a long commute through traffic. That sense of relief has to be similar to the comfort Rory McIlroy feels now that he’s on the grounds at Quail Hollow after an eventful season that lacks one thing: a win. Of course, McIlroy can’t just put his feet up on the recliner. There’s a major championship to be played this week, but few players seem more perfectly matched to a course than McIlroy is to Quail Hollow. McIlroy won his first PGA TOUR title here in 2010, when he still had some baby fat and his long, curly locks, and added a seven-shot victory in 2015. He owns more course records here (two) than finishes outside the top 10 (one). The PGA Championship is the only major he’s won multiple times, as well.  It’s why, despite going winless thus far in 2017, he’s the betting favorite this week, slightly ahead of Open Championship winner Jordan Spieth. “This has been a week I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad I’m showing up for this week feeling like my game is in good shape, as well,” McIlroy said in Tuesday’s pre-tournament press conference. He has won at least one professional title every year since 2009. There’s five months remaining in 2017, but thus far this year proves to be the exception. He does arrive at Quail Hollow after two consecutive top-five finishes, though. He overcame a poor start at The Open to finish T4, and put on an exhibition with his driver en route to a T5 at last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. The reigning FedExCup champion is 43rd in this season’s standings. This year has included a series of changes that span the spectrum. There was his wedding in April to Erica Stoll, a former PGA of America employee, but also an equipment change in May (to TaylorMade) and two injury-induced hiatuses as he struggled with a stress fracture in his ribs that was induced by overuse while testing equipment. He has been able to play his expected schedule in the past two months, though. He has deemed this a “transitional” year, but said he feels “settled” as the season’s final major is about to begin. McIlroy is 66 under par here since 2010, six shots lower than any other player in that span; Phil Mickelson is second at 60 under. McIlroy has shot par or better in 19 of his 26 rounds at Quail Hollow, with a scoring average of 69.5 strokes. He shot a course-record 61 in the third round of his 2015 victory, bettering the 62 he fired in 2010’s final round. “There’s just certain golf courses that you can see the shot you want to hit. You don’t have to try to visualize a shot. It’s right there. And that’s the way Quail Hollow has always been for me. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always felt comfortable,” McIlroy said. “There’s certain golf courses you get out on and you feel like you have to play really bad not to shoot something under par.” Rory's Quail Hollow history 2016: T4, 73-69-73-66—281 (-7) 2015: WON, 70-67-61-69—267 (-21) 2014: T8, 69-76-65-70—280 (-8) 2013: T10, 67-71-73-73—284 (-4) 2012: T2, 70-68-66-70—274 (-14) 2011: MC, 75-72—147 (+3) 2010: WON, 72-73-66-62—273 (-15) Rounds: 26 Scoring average: 69.5 Par-or-better: 19 (73.1%) Over-par: 7 (26.9%) In 60s: 12 (46.2%) Quail Hollow allows McIlroy to display his greatest asset, his driver. He’s led the Wells Fargo Championship in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee five of the six times he’s made the cut, and finished third the other time. Four of his six best performances in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee have come at this event, as well. He’s hit 50 tee shots longer than 330 yards in his 26 rounds at Quail Hollow, and 17 that have traveled farther than 350 yards. Being able to unsheath his driver also explains McIlroy’s success at the PGA Championship. He won by eight shots in 2012 at Kiawah Island, then was a one-stroke winner two years later at Valhalla. Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s setup man, undoubtedly has a place on the McIlroys’ Christmas card list. ”They suit my style of game, they're long and not too narrow,” McIlroy said of PGA Championship setups. “There’s usually four par 5s, -- next week's only three par-5s -- and I think in August it's usually humid, conditions are a little bit softer, and that obviously plays into my hands as well.” McIlroy was second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee last week at the Bridgestone Invitational. He averaged 343.9 yards off the tee, while hitting 52 of 56 tee shots longer than 300 yards. Mediocre wedge play kept him from capitalizing on those long tee shots, though he said it improved as the week progressed. He said a fifth-place finish was "nearly the worst I could have done." McIlroy took one wedge out of the bag this week – he’ll use 46-, 54- and 60-degree wedges – and added a 3-iron to his bag for the par-5s and the par-3 sixth hole. Iron play will be important this week, as McIlroy led the field in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green in his two wins here. Rory's top Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee performances 1. 2015 Wells Fargo Championship, +2.671 per round 2. 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, +2.285 3. 2014 Wells Fargo Championship, +2.090 4. 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, +2.076 5. 2016 PGA Championship, +2.001 6. 2010 Wells Fargo Championship, +1.854 With the exception of this year, when the Wells Fargo Championship moved to Wilmington’s Eagle Point, Quail Hollow has hosted the PGA TOUR since 2003. It’s the first PGA TOUR venue to host a major since Congressional Country Club was site of the 2011 U.S. Open, which McIlroy won by eight shots. Congressional now hosts the Quicken Loans National on even-numbered years, and hosted the event from 2007-09 and 2012-14. The 2010 U.S. Open was the last time a major was held at a course with such a long, and active, history of hosting PGA TOUR events. Three players in that field had won multiple times at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III. Their past success seemed to serve them well. Johnson, the 2009 and 2010 AT&T winner, held the 54-hole lead in the U.S. Open before a final-round 82. Mickelson was in contention until a back-nine 39 left him in fourth place, three shots behind winner Graeme McDowell. Love III finished T6, his first top-10 in a major since 2005. (Tiger Woods, who won his lone AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2000, four months before a 15-shot win there in the U.S. Open, finished T4 in the 2010 U.S. Open.) Like those players, McIlroy can draw upon good memories here. In 2010, he went from making the cut on the number to winning by four shots. He needed to make a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-5 seventh hole, his 16th hole of the second round, and par the next two holes just to advance to the weekend, where he shot 66-62. His record-setting final round, shot two days before his 21st birthday, remains his best round on the PGA TOUR in relation to the field’s scoring average. He capped it with a 43-foot birdie putt on No. 18, his sixth consecutive 3 to close the round. He gained 10.7 strokes on the field that day; it was Sunday’s low score by four shots, allowing McIlroy to jump from four shots back to four shots ahead. It was his second-best single-round performance in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (+4.41) and his third-best mark in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.673). His 61 here in 2015 was his second-best Strokes Gained: Putting round of his career (only his first-round 63 at the 2014 Memorial was better). He entertained thoughts of firing 59 before making par on the final two holes. “I’m obviously delighted with the score,” he said after the round. “It’s always nice to break your own course record. I feel like the best player in the world and I wanted to go out and prove that.” McIlroy is looking to end a three-year major drought this week, but he said he’s not trying to make a statement. Thirteen PGA TOUR victories, four majors and the FedExCup speak for themselves. “I’m definitely not going out there to try to prove anything to anyone,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I just want to go out and play my game and hopefully that will be good enough.” 

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