Golf

McIlroy hopes good vibes in Wells Fargo contribute to first win of 2016

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the second hole during the pro-am of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte on Wednesday.
Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the second hole during the pro-am of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte on Wednesday. AP

Rory McIlroy’s season is in need of resuscitation.

Quail Hollow Club is just the place that could give it some life.

McIlroy is the defending champion of this week’s $7.3 million Wells Fargo Championship, and Quail Hollow Club has become one of his favorite courses.

He earned his first PGA Tour victory on the 7,575-yard test in 2010, won last year with a 21-under 267 that set the tournament record by five strokes, lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in 2012, and has finished in the top 10 in five of his six tournament appearances.

“Quail Hollow and Charlotte has been a really good place for me on my PGA Tour career starting with the win in 2010 and having obviously won last year,” McIlroy said. “… I’ve always been very comfortable on this golf course. I think with being so comfortable and with the great memories that I have here, it all sort of adds up to obviously a really enjoyable week, but a week where I feel like I can play really well and very strongly and have a chance to contend again.”

McIlroy, who turned 27 on Wednesday, is responsible for two of the three lowest rounds in the tournament’s 14-year history.

He set the 18-hole tournament course record of 11-under 61 in the third round last year to take command of the tournament, and he shot a 62 – which Brendon de Jonge also did in 2014 – in the final round in 2010 for a come-from-behind win. Last year’s 61 prompted playing partner Will MacKenzie to pronounce following the round: “He’s way better than me at golf.”

“The golf course plays very right-to-left and that’s his game,” said 2006 Wells Fargo champion Jim Furyk. “He hits it hard and long, and this is a big golf course so I could see him being very, very comfortable here. But I think that the horses for courses thing works until you are one of the best players in the world and then you pretty much play wherever you want and play well.”

The world’s No. 3 player ranks 36th in PGA Tour FedExCup points this season. He tied for third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March, finished fourth in the WGC-Dell Match Play in late March and is coming off a tie for 10th in the Masters that included a 77 in the third round, and has finished outside the top 10 in his other five starts.

He hasn’t played in the three weeks since the Masters concluded.

“I took a little time off after Augusta just to recharge the batteries a little bit,” McIlroy said. “It was a pretty busy stretch up to Augusta. I took a couple of weeks off and started to work hard again last week to try to get the game back in shape. There’s a couple of things at Augusta I wasn’t really happy with my swing so I've been working on my swing quite a lot. I’m working quite a lot on a couple of technical things coming into this week so hopefully I can continue to bed them in and get some competitive play as well.”

McIlroy’s last win worldwide came in November in the European Tour’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

McIlroy is part of a field that includes five of the top 10 and 14 of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 17 of the top 30 players in the FedExCup standings, including No. 1 Adam Scott.

I’ve always been very comfortable (at Quail Hollow Golf Course). I think with being so comfortable and with the great memories that I have here, it all sort of adds up to obviously a really enjoyable week, but a week where I feel like I can play really well and very strongly and have a chance to contend again.

Golfer Rory McIlroy

The Wells Fargo annually attracts one of the top fields in golf and many of the game’s top players want to get another look at Quail Hollow before it hosts the PGA Championship next August.

In addition to McIlroy and world No. 7 Scott, others teeing it up this week include No. 4 Rickie Fowler, No. 6 Henrik Stenson and No. 10 Justin Rose, as well as Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Bill Haas, Ernie Els, Hideki Matsuyama, Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover, Paul Casey, Smylie Kaufman, Bryson DeChambeau, J.B. Holmes, Anirban Lahiri, Angel Cabrera, Zurich Classic of New Orleans winner Brian Stuard, Jim Furyk, and Quail Hollow member Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers, who both tied for second last year.

“They do everything they can for hospitality, for taking care of you with the food, just every little thing they can do,” said Charlotte native and 11-time Wells Fargo participant Davis Love III. “Plus, it’s a great golf course, it’s a great city to come to and has great golf fans. So this has become one of the favorite weeks on tour.”

Quail Hollow has been softened over the past week by several inches of rain, making its formidable length play even longer. Many balls off the tee were picking up mud on Tuesday and Wednesday, and there were areas of standing water in fairways. But no more rain is anticipated this week so the course should firm up over the course of the event.

“It will make the course play a lot longer, and if anything, that plays into my hands a little bit,” McIlroy said. “… When I go out on that course, I feel like I have to play pretty badly not to shoot a decent score, I guess. I feel like I just know my way around it and I'm comfortable and hopefully that will be the same case this week.”

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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