CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy found his comfort zone at Quail Hollow and left with a trophy he badly needed.
McIlroy closed with a 3-under 68 and made it tough on himself at the end Sunday, driving into the hazard left of the 18th fairway and needing two putts from 45 feet for a one-shot victory in the Wells Fargo Championship.
What mattered was ending 18 months since his last victory in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, along with finding a strong semblance of his game as he prepares to return to Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship.
“It's never easy," McIlroy said. “It felt like a long time.”
It showed. McIlroy seemed to be on the verge of choking up at winning on Mother's Day, thinking of his mother, Rosie, and wife Erica. She was at Quail Hollow with their daughter, Poppy, and McIlroy doted on them before signing his card.
McIlroy seized control with two splendid bunker shots, getting up-and-down for birdie on the reachable par-4 14th and the par-5 15th, and then holding on at the end.
Abraham Ancer ran off three straight birdies and nearly closed with a fourth one, posting a 66 for a runner-up finish, the fourth of his career as the Mexican seeks his first PGA Tour title.
McIlroy finished at 10-under 274 for his 19th career victory, and his third at Quail Hollow.
“This is one of my favorite places in the world," said McIlroy, who picked up his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow in 2010. “To break the drought and win here, it's awesome.”
It was a tough finish for Keith Mitchell, who started the final round with a two-shot lead and quickly stretched it to three shots with a 6-iron out of a fairway bunker into a stiffening breeze to 12 feet for birdie.
But his short game let him down all day, leading to bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes that cost him the lead, and on the 14th hole and 15th holes when he had to settle for pars after being in position for birdies.
Mitchell, whose only victory was the Honda Classic just over two years ago, needed to finish alone in second to qualify for the PGA Championship through the money list. But he dropped a shot on the 17th and closed with a 72 to tie for third with Viktor Hovland, who had a 67.
Former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland had a share of the lead early on the back nine until he went through a bad patch of back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 12 and 13, and settling for pars on the next two scoring holes. He shot 71 and finished fifth.
Bryson DeChambeau managed a tie for ninth following a 68-68 weekend that began with him flying home to Dallas thinking he had missed the cut.
McIlroy, along with going 18 months without a win, slipped to No. 15 in the world, his lowest position in more than a decade. He brought on swing coach Pete Cowen for an extra set of eyes. They worked hard last week in Florida as McIlroy tried to get back to understanding what he does so well with the golf swing.
Winning is not an instant cure. He hit only three fairways on Sunday, and the last one nearly got him in trouble. His ball landed on the hill left of the winding creek, just short of the water, in a deep hole of shaggy grass. He wisely chose to take a penalty drop instead of gouging it out, and he sent an 8-iron towering toward the green, landing safely in the fat of the putting surface.
That brought out of the loudest cheers of a day filled with them. The Wells Fargo Championship had more energy than any tournament since golf returned from the pandemic.
Just what McIlroy needed.
He thought he would enjoy some quiet of no spectators. It didn't take long for him to realize he missed the energy. “To bring out the best in myself, I needed this," he said.
And when it was over, he turned and heaved his golf ball toward thousands of fans.