McIlroy snaps PGA title drought with third win at Quail Hollow
Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy alongside his wife Erica and daughter Poppy. AFP
Rory McIlroy snapped an 18-month US PGA victory drought on Sunday, overcoming a tense last-hole dilemma to win his third Wells Fargo Championship by one stroke.
The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland defied windy conditions to win his 19th career US PGA title, firing a final-round three-under par 68 to finish 72 holes at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 10-under 274.
It was the first victory by McIlroy since the WGC HSBC Champions at Shanghai in November 2019 and it comes with the start of the year's second major tournament, the PGA Championship, looming on May 20. "It's awesome," McIlroy said. "It's never easy to win out here. It has felt like a long time since that victory in China in 2019. The world is a completely different place than it was before. We've been through a pandemic."
Mexico's Abraham Ancer was second on 275 after a closing 66 with Norway's Viktor Hovland and American Keith Mitchell sharing third on 276 and 2019 US Open champion Gary Woodland fifth on 277. The triumph was also McIlroy's first as a father, his wife Erica having given birth to daughter Poppy last year, and it came on US Mother's Day.
McIlroy also won at Quail Hollow in 2010 for his first US PGA triumph and again in 2015, when he fired a course-record 61 in the third round and cruised to a seven-stroke victory. This one was a battle to the end. Leading by two strokes at the 18th tee, McIlroy hooked his drive the left rough near a water hazard. With a tricky sidehill lie, he took a penalty drop, then smashed an 8-iron onto the green and two-putted from 44 feet for bogey and the long-sought victory.
McIlroy pumped his right fist as a cheering crowd, among the biggest since the pandemic struck last March, began to chant his name. He was inspired to throw his ball into the crowd.
"It's just awesome to play in front of these people again," McIlroy said. "To bring the best out of myself, I need this. I feed off the energy so much, maybe no place more so than this. They carried me though today."
McIlroy has won four US PGA events at least twice, including the PGA Championship and Tour Championship, but this is the first one he has taken three times.
Four-time major winner McIlroy was playing in his first event since missing the cut at the Masters last month with a chance to complete a career Grand Slam. World number 15 McIlroy was left alone in the lead at 9-under when Woodland made bogeys at the par-4 12th and par-3 13th.
But Mitchell matched McIlroy at the top with a nine-foot birdie putt at 13 and Ancer joined them with a late charge, holing a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.
McIlroy answered the challenge at the par-4 14th, driving into a greenside bunker, blasting his second shot within five feet of the hole an sinking the birdie putt to reclaim the solo lead at 10-under.
McIlroy found a bunker with his second at the par-5 15th but blasted out three feet past the cup and sank the birdie putt to lead by two at 11-under with three holes remaining.
That gave McIlroy 49 consecutive putts made inside six feet for the week in as many attempts.
Woodland led by 3 early
McIlroy and Woodland began the round two back of leader Mitchell, who opened with a birdie. But Mitchell stumbled with bogeys at the par-4 fifth and par-3 sixth while McIlroy and Woodland charged.
McIlroy sank a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the third, saved par from seven feet at the par-3 sixth and birdied from 24 feet at the par-5 seventh to reach 9-under.
Woodland, playing one group ahead of McIlroy in the penultimate pairing, birdied the seventh and par-4 eighth from about four feet to match McIlroy for the lead as they reached the back nine.
Canada's Corey Conners aced the par-3 sixth hole using a hybrid from 254 yards.