POTOMAC, Maryland — Despite the fact that this year’s event is being staged at a different venue than normal, let alone one he’s never seen before, defending champion Rory McIlroy is having a wonderful time at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship this week.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to defend a title, it’s a good thing to do.” McIlroy of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms, the alternative host course as Quail Hollow prepares to host the Presidents Cup in September, remarked, “Obviously my success at this tournament has been at Quail Hollow and not here.” “I’ve never played here before, and I’ve never seen the place.” So I played 18 holes yesterday and just nine holes today, so I believe it’s a very good substitute for Quail Hollow.”
The Northern Irishman has won the Wells Fargo three times (2010, 2015, and 2021) in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he also won his first PGA Tour event, the Quail Hollow Championship, by four shots over Phil Mickelson in 2010. While McIlroy has little experience outside of this week at TPC Potomac, he does have some history across the street at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, where he won the 2011 U.S. Open in record-breaking manner with the lowest 72-hole score (268) in the championship’s history.
“I was driving into town yesterday morning, along whatever road it is, and I looked to the left and thought, ‘That looks like Congressional.’ ‘Oh, that’s Congressional,’ says the speaker. “It’s evident that this region has excellent vibrations,” said McIlroy, who became an honorary member of the club after working a First Tee event there a few years ago and will return on Wednesday afternoon. “To this day, I believe it was the best week of golf I’ve ever played.”
The 20-time Tour champion claimed he doesn’t recall much about his victory at Congressional, preferring to watch replays over the years and see how comfortable his playing was all around.
“I was coming off a terrible loss at Augusta, and that was still vivid in my mind,” recalled McIlroy, who had a four-shot lead going into the final round that year and shot 80. “I think I was just so hyper-focused that week that I knew I was playing well, and I think simply Augusta’s lessons stuck with me the entire week and I didn’t get ahead of myself, and psychologically I was just in a really good spot.”
When it comes to Augusta National, the last time fans saw McIlroy was on Sunday at the Masters, when he shot the week’s first bogey-free round of 8-under 64, boosted by the first of two spectacular sand rescues on the 18th hole. After winning the CJ Cup last October, McIlroy finished second to champion Scottie Scheffler for his second top-five result of the season.
After a nine-hole morning pro-am with Jakari Harris and Lennard Long, a pair of HBCU alumni who now work with the First Tee, McIlroy celebrated his 33rd birthday on Wednesday.
“Not every Wednesday, there are a lot of Wednesdays on Tour in pro-ams that aren’t as much fun as today.” “It’s been amazing to spend time with these guys and see not only what terrific players they are, but also what great people they are,” McIlroy added. “On the first tee, there was a happy birthday music, which was quite lovely of them. I don’t know, I don’t believe a 33rd birthday has much to do with anything – it’s sort of in the center. 35-years-old, 30-years-old, and 33-years-old just seem like, uh, I’m not sure. It was incredibly thoughtful of them to wish me a happy birthday.”
McIlroy’s 33rd birthday may not be enough to make him happy, but if he can learn from his last near call at Augusta National, a 21st victory on the PGA Tour should suffice.