Sunday 26 March 2017

McIlroy masters mind games as he ransacks Quail Hollow

William S Callahan

On Saturday, Rory McIlroy reached that elusive level of consciousness that athletes call ‘the zone’, a place in which vision and physicality merge to make the difficult seem ordinary, the emotions settle into detached calmness, and the performance just flows (Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
On Saturday, Rory McIlroy reached that elusive level of consciousness that athletes call ‘the zone’, a place in which vision and physicality merge to make the difficult seem ordinary, the emotions settle into detached calmness, and the performance just flows (Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts after making a birdie putt on the 16th hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Rory McIlroy

Hail the conquering hero. Rory McIlroy triumphed for the second time in three weeks, and still the roadshow goes on.

A 69 in round four of the Wells Fargo Championship got the job done yesterday after Saturday's spectacular course record 61 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina gave him effective control of the tournament.

The World number one led by four shots from nearest challenger Webb Simpson, a former US Open winner, at the start of play yesterday and won by seven on 21 under par from joint runners-up Simpson and Patrick Rodgers.

Despite the occasional blip and without reaching the heights of Saturday, McIlroy justifiably took home the winner's cheque for $1.278 million.

It was the champion's second time to win this tournament, and earned him his 11th PGA Tour victory since 2010.

Next up for McIlroy is the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW Championship at Wentworth which starts on Thursday to be followed by his fifth event of the month, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down

McIlroy's energy levels physically and mentally have remained high, and, of course, winning and contending for titles brings its own momentum.

"Mentally, I feel now when I have a lead going into these final rounds I handle it better, and that comes from experience. If I had been in this position three or four years ago it would have been different, but now every time I put myself in these positions, I feel more comfortable.

"The golf course sets up perfectly for me. Today I hit some great iron shots and I hit them close. I gave myself some tap-in birdies, and that was nice. It's always great to win on the PGA Tour and it sets me up nicely for the next few weeks.

"I'll just try and re-charge as best I can. I might practice a bit on Tuesday and then play the pro-am (at Wentworth) and get set to go and do it all again," said McIlroy.

Much as he would like to have staged a repeat spectacular of round three yesterday, by the second hole, it was apparent that McIlroy was set for a more prosaic experience.

A three-putt bogey out of nothing, allied to Simpson chipping in for a birdie after firing his approach shot through the green, caused a flutter of annoyance for the tournament leader.

He repaired the damage with birdies on the par-5 fifth and seventh holes to turn in one under 35, and 19 under for the tournament.

A lucky bounce off trees on his drive at the 11th was followed by a loose second from 142 yards that missed the green.

The recently crowned WGC Match Play champion wasn't happy with the error, but he re-focused and got up and down to save par, holing from ten feet.

On the 12th, it was more like business as usual, when he pitched to two feet from 132 yards and tapped in for a birdie three, moving the leaderboard dial to 20 under.

His playing partner Simpson kept battling but could not gain traction on McIlroy, who made three on the driveable 325 yards 14th, pushing on to 21 under par.

He missed a birdie chance on 15, then ripped up the 16th with a 364 yard drive and a 9-iron second from 145 yards to three feet for another birdie and 22 under par.

Rodgers dropped back to 14 under alongside Simpson over the closing holes, and McIlroy was no longer threatened. As the adrenaline dropped, he finished bogey, par.

Meanwhile, England's James Morrison claimed the second win of his career when he closed with a 69 for 10 under par 278 and a four shot victory margin in the Open de Espana at El Prat yesterday.

Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland was going well early in the tournament, but his performance tailed off , and he finished with a second successive 75 of the weekend to close on one over 289 for joint 31st place.

Rosapenna's Ruaidhri McGee tied for sixth place in the weather-lashed Made in Denmark Challenge on six over par, scoring a creditable 75.

Max Orrin (England) mastered the brutal conditions, returning a level par 71 and a one over par 275 total.

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