Rory McIlroy: Realizing the payoffs in lessons learned

Rory McIlroy won going away at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina. With this length and consequent derring-do, he picked the Quail Hollow Club apart with tight lines across corners few others could carry. It was a virtuoso performance.

He began with a 4-shot lead over Webb Simpson and extended it to seven by shooting 3-under while Simpson shot even par. Patrick Rodgers, the subject of yesterday’s post, got it to 7-under on the day before finishing double-bogey, bogey to tie Simpson at T2.

Had Rodgers finished solo 2nd, he would have surely won his Tour card for 2016; he would have earned enough money to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions the rest of this year. He has spots in the next three Tour events, so he should soon have that done anyway. He is a very strong talent seemingly out of nowhere in spite of his distinguished college career.

And after today, it looks like McIlroy will be king for quite a while. Why? Because he once fell into the trap of becoming overconfident and he’s determined not to do it again:

I think the great thing is I have fallen into that trap before and now that I’m in this position I’ll realize if I ever get in that mindset again.

Back in 2012 when I got to World No. 1 I felt like I got a little bit complacent and had to rededicate myself a little bit.  Not saying I ever lost that.  Just work as hard as I can and try and be the best that I can be and I think that’s the only way sort of to fight overconfidence.

And make no mistake, it’s good to be king:

Feels pretty good.  Playing well.  Really happy with my game.  Everything is sort of firing on all cylinders.  I did what I wanted to do the last few weeks.  I got myself up the FedExCup rankings, solidified my places at the top of the World Rankings.

Looking forward to put the feet up tonight and get a bit of sleep and get ready for the next couple many weeks in Europe. Then the U.S. Open.  Still feels like a long way away.  It’s fantastic to play like this.

McIlroy is the first player to win the Wells Fargo twice and he was asked to compare the two. Listen for how significant he thought the difference was even though he had a heroic finish five years ago:

Sort of boring (laughter) in terms of there wasn’t as much excitement on the back-9.  I finished with six 3s the last time I won here.  Would have been nice to finish with six 3s again but I didn’t quite need to.

It was more controlled — I feel like I’m a much more controlled player. I took command of the tournament yesterday and then I just needed to play a solid round of golf today and I feel like the more times I get in that position where I go out with leads like this — in Dubai at the start of the year I went with the 3 shot lead.  Shot a solid 70.  Got the job done there.  Shoot 69, get the job done here.

I’ve learned how to handle these positions and I’m finishing the job off the way I should, which is very pleasing.

But there’s another trap of sorts that comes with this excellence beyond the overconfidence he spoke about. When you have a lead like he had today — substantially because of his 61 on Saturday — and the chasers aren’t making up any ground, how do you fight off complacency and the risk of sliding back to them?

That’s where you have to set your own goals and you have to motivate yourself to reach those. I set myself a goal today of trying to birdie all the par-5s and birdie the two drivable par-4s, the 8th hole and 14th hole.  If I made six birdies right there there was a good chance no one was going to catch me.

I didn’t quite do that but I still shot a solid round and did what I needed to do so — but, yeah, it’s still — even on this golf course, I was standing on the — standing on the 16th tee with a 4-shot lead and I still felt like I needed to play well coming in because you never know what can happen.  I hit it in the water a couple of times.  Patrick Rodgers got it to 17-under.  He could have birdied the last couple of holes and got to 19.  It can change very quickly.  You got to keep focused the whole time.

With all of the golf he’s played over the last three weeks, what’s his assessment of his energy level as he heads off to Europe for the PGA and the Irish Open? Is he worried about it?

No, because I’ve been trying to manage it.  I’ve been trying to stay away from the golf course as much as I can, not spend the time I need to there [presumably on his short game, fitness, etc. rather than playing].  I went back home after The Players, I played 18 holes on Monday and 9 holes on Tuesday just because a couple of my buddies were in town and they wanted to go play the Bear’s Club.  Perfect.  I’ll go play.  You play in a cart.  It’s not like you’re taking much out of yourself.

It hasn’t caught up with me yet.  Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with me in the next two weeks.  As I said, I’m going to try to get a lot of sleep in between now and teeing it up on Thursday and hopefully I’m ready to go.

Did you notice just how fit he looked? So much so that I was pretty much constantly reminded of it every time the camera had a tighter shot of him. He has clearly spent a lot of time on fitness. That’s got to help him more than just a little. And it kinda makes him look invincible.

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