Rory McIlroy snapped his 18-month winless streak late on Sunday by sealing the Wells Fargo Championship for the third time - hitting form at “certainly the right time” with the season’s second major up next for him.
The four-time major winner, whose last victory arrived in November 2019, shot a final round 68 at Quail Hollow to clinch a one-shot victory from Mexican Abraham Ancer. It ended a 553-day drought for McIlroy, the former world No 1 who had slipped to 15th in the global rankings - his lowest placing since 2009.
McIlroy even survived a late scare on Sunday, when he incurred a one-stroke penalty on the final hole. However, he held his nerve to make what proved to be a decisive bogey.
“It’s never easy,” said a visibly emotional McIlroy immediately afterwards. “It has felt like a long time. The world is a completely different place. A pandemic, being a father now. This feels awesome. To break the drought and win here again is awesome.”
With wins at Quail Hollow in 2010 – his first on the PGA Tour – and 2015, McIlroy always seemed likely to be a threat on the final day despite starting two shots back from overnight leader Keith Mitchell.
The victory, coming only a month after he missed a first cut at the Masters in 11 years, looks to be perfect preparation for McIlroy's quest for a third US PGA Championship title. This month's tournament takes place from May 20-23 at Kiawah Island, scene of McIlroy's stunning eight-stroke success in 2012, which secured the second of his four majors. Now 32, McIlroy has not added to that tally since 2014.
"It's certainly great timing,'' said the Northern Irishman, who only six weeks ago began working with renowned coach Pete Cowan. "This is obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been.
"I'll be able to poke holes in everything that I did today – it's certainly far from perfect – but this one is validation that I'm on the right track.''
McIlroy conceded the absence of galleries at golf events during the pandemic had contributed to his loss of form. Pre-pandemic, the Northern Irishman was ranked the world’s No 1.
"This is one of my favourite places in the world," he said. "It's awesome to play in front of these people again. When we came back from the pandemic I thought I would enjoy the peace and quiet a little bit.
"I soon realised that, to bring the best out of myself, I need this and I feel all the energy so much. Maybe here more than anywhere else because it's the first place I've won three times. The crowd really carried me through today."
McIlroy, who overcame a neck injury to compete this week, had held a two-shot lead on the 18th tee, but needed to take a penalty drop after his drive buried on a bank protecting a water hazard. He then found the green and two-putted for bogey to finish on 10-under par. With the win - his 19th on the PGA Tour - McIlroy climbs to 7th in the world rankings.