The Quail Creek Championship, the Charlotte stop on the Professional Golf Association Tour, was hyped up last week because it was Tiger Woods’ second appearance since his self-imposed exile from competitive golf. Woods’ hiatus from golf has been well publicized. His first event since the Thanksgiving auto accident, that led to the revelation of a laundry list of trysts, was the Masters a few weeks ago. Woods was competitive in Augusta, so the golfing world was anxious to see how he would fare in his next event.
Then there was Masters winner Phil Mickelson also entered in the Quail Creek event. That makes for some star power right there. Anyway, whenever Phil and Tiger are in an event the crowds buzz and the media pays attention. Last week Woods only made news for two days as he shot 76 and 78 to miss the cut. Woods was tied for 140th after two rounds.
Mickelson stayed in contention and ultimately finished in second place. The story, however, for this week on the PGA Tour turned out to be a 20 year old from Ireland named Rory McIlroy. By the time this column hits print McIlroy will be 21, but when he finished his record setting round on Sunday he was still 20.
As the cut line was being determined at Quail Creek last Friday McIlroy was squarely on the bubble. A 73 on Friday to go with Thursday’s 72 had McIlroy at one over par. Those at two over missed the cut, so McIlroy made it to the weekend by a stroke.
A round of 66 by McIlroy on Saturday was the best in the field and made the youngster relevant on Sunday, but still four shots out of the lead with six players in front of him. McIlroy served notice on Sunday that he will be a force to contend with. A point should be made here. McIlroy is not a surprise player who just burst on the scene. His talent has been known for some time, so it was a matter of when, not if, he would win. He is now ranked ninth in the world.
A closing round of 62 on Sunday allowed McIlroy to set a course record and virtually lap the field as he posted a 15 under par 273 for a four shot margin over Mickelson. That was 16 under par on Saturday and Sunday on a course not considered to be an easy one.
You wouldn’t know Quail Hollow was a difficult course by looking at McIlroy’s scorecard. There were 12 threes on his card. That included six threes on the final six holes. Try that on for size you weekend players. Top amateur players may flirt with numbers like that, but most amateurs would be tickled to death with 12 threes for a weekend and many more would take six threes for a two day stretch.
The most impressive thing about watching McIlroy on Sunday was his confidence. He has a picture perfect swing and his shot making was amazing. Most of his birdies and one eagle were from putts inside of 10 feet. The kid just kept knocking down the flagstick. Still, under those circumstances making a handful of six and seven foot putts to claim his first PGA Tour win was impressive.
On 18, with the verdict virtually in hand, McIlroy caused a stir by making a 40 foot putt for his final three of the day. Good stuff.