Weekly PGA Recap: Rory Roars Some More

Weekly PGA Recap: Rory Roars Some More

This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.

There are so many what-ifs in sports. One of them in golf is, if every golfer played their absolute best, whose best is the best? Rory McIlroy has been there with Dustin Johnson. He's been there with Jordan Spieth. He's been there with Jason Day. He's been there with Jon Rahm. He's been there with Scottie Scheffler.

For the last dozen years or so, McIlroy has been compared to everyone. And not always very favorably. Scheffler is better now. Koepka has more majors. Patrick Reed whipped him at the Ryder Cup. Heck, McIlroy's even been compared to himself -- he hasn't won a major in 10 years, he's not as good as he used to be.

For one eight-hole stretch on Sunday, one absolutely surreal eight-hole stretch, McIlroy showed that he's still quite capable of being the McIlroy of old.

He strung together two eagles, four birdies and two pars to play that eight-hole stretch in 8-under-par to absolutely crush a didn't-know-what-hit-him Xander Schauffele and win the Wells Fargo Championship for a record fourth time. 

After Schauffele eagled No. 7 at Quail Hollow Club to actually forge a two-stroke lead, McIlroy responded with birdie-birdie-eagle-par-par-birdie-birdie-eagle to leave the No. 3-ranked golfer in the world in the dust. The No. 3-ranked golfer in the dust.

"He's Rory McIlroy, you know?" said Schauffele, who wound up five behind McIlroy but three ahead of third place. "He hits it 350 yards in the air downwind and he has shorter clubs into firm greens than anyone else. When he's on, he's on. Hats off to him for winning. Yeah, he played unbelievably well."

This was the McIlroy of the past, the one who won four majors in a four-year span from 2011 to '14. (See, even we played the comparison game with McIlroy.)

"Yeah, when you play an eight-hole stretch in 8 under par, it feels a little like that," McIlroy said. "No, I mean, I've been sort of banging this drum for the last few years, but I'm a way better player now than I was back then. I haven't had the major record to back that up, but I've had the wins, I've done everything else there is to do in the game since 2014. The only thing I need to do is get another major. You know, a win like this going into the PGA Championship next week is a good way to prep for that."

Yeah, the timing certainly ratchets up the drama heading into the year's second major this week at Valhalla. Which happens to be the course where McIlroy won that last major back in 2014.

McIlroy won the Zurich Classic two weeks ago alongside Shane Lowry. Team events don't normally mean much of anything, but McIlroy displayed a joy and easiness we hadn't seen much from him over the past two years during the whole LIV thing. And even this past week, he apparently was bashed behind the scenes as he tried to return to the PGA tour's Policy Board only to be rebuffed.

(Since Patrick Cantlay, the leading anti-McIlroy Policy Board voice, was far back on the leaderboard, maybe hammering his good pal Schauffele added a little extra spice to McIlroy's victory.)

For the record, McIlroy ranked top-10 in every strokes-gained stat this week: 1st in Off-the-Tee, fourth in Approach, ninth in Around-the-Green and eighth in Putting. He averaged 337 yards off the tee. Remind us again whose best is best? 

So, here we go again at Valhalla. McIlroy. A major. 10 years later. 40 majors later.

Scheffler skipped the Wells Fargo but will be at Valhalla after his wife Meredith reportedly gave birth to their first child. Koepka will also be there. And Rahm and Spieth and Day and DJ and new kid Ludvig Aberg and everyone else.

Whose best will be best at the PGA Championship?

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Xander Schauffele
No. 3 in the world. Deservedly so. Which is hard to say because, you know, the guy never wins. When you can have high finish after high finish yet can't close the deal, there has to be something going on. This was Schauffele's fourth tournament in the final pairing on Sunday this season. And it's May. Of course, Schauffele has won before. Seven times on the PGA Tour. But there have been some wide separations. He won the Travelers and Scottish Open in consecutive starts in 2022 and nothing since. Before that, it was 3 ½ years back to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions (not including the Zurich team event in 2022). It says here it will be hard for Schauffele to rebound so quickly from this latest what-happened. And the PGA Championship starts in four days.

Byeong Hun An
There haven't been many golfers relegated to the Korn Ferry Tour who have come back to the PGA Tour even  better than they were before. Sure, guys at the beginning of their career. But established guys on the other side of 30? An has been spectacular in his return to the big tour. He has five top-10s and eight top-25s in 13 starts this season, including Sunday's solo third. He was top-5 at both Hawaii events, top-10 at Bay Hill, 16th at the Masters. An was putting great at the start of the season but had slipped to 91st on Tour. At Quail Hollow, he led the field. When you combined that with season-long rankings in the top-25 in both SG: Off-the-Tee and Tee-to-Green, that's more than good enough to win tournaments.

Jason Day
Day went three months without a top-10 until tying for fourth at Quail Hollow. Maybe he's regained his form just in time for the PGA Championship, which through the years has been his best major.

Sungjae Im
Candidly, Im has not been good for a few years now. Heck, he's never ever been in the top-15 in the OWGR. His only wins since 2021 have been the same event in Korea twice, last year and two weeks ago. Last year, he got zero boost from the victory. So we'll see whether his T4 at the Wells Fargo signals a new path forward. It was only last month after a missed cut at the Masters that Im fell to 45th in the world.

Denny McCarthy
McCarthy is now up to a career-best 29th in the world after tying for sixth. You wouldn't have thought he was a great fit for brutally long Quail Hollow, so this lends optimism for his success at a similarly long Valhalla this week at the PGA Championship.

Mackenzie Hughes
After a slow start to 2024, Hughes is on the upswing. It started with a T3 at the Valspar followed by a T14 at Houston. And now throw in a T6 at Quail Hollow. Like with McCarthy, the course did not appear to be a good fit. So Hughes has to feel great about his game heading to Valhalla.

Max Homa
Homa tied for eighth at a track he loves. Valhalla is similar to Quail Hollow. Homa could be primed for another good major.

Sepp Straka
After a woeful start to the season, Straka has now gone T16 at both THE PLAYERS and Masters, T5 at the RB Heritage and now T8 at the Wells Fargo. He's up to a career-best 21st in the world rankings. You'd think his PGA Championship DFS ownership just shot up over the past four days.

Taylor Pendrith
A week after winning the Byron Nelson, Pendrith would've been forgiven if he took his foot off the gas. But he tied for 10th. Sometimes, guys win their first tournament and disappear for a while. Sometimes, it leads quickly to the next level.

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa started with a 67 but couldn't follow it up and tied for 16th. He ranked 41st in the field in SG: Approach. He had it going pretty well for a few weeks but the approach play remains a concern heading into the Valhalla, where long iron play is an absolute must.

Seamus Power
It's a bit stunning that Power didn't qualify for the PGA Championship and wasn't even among the top alternates who got in. This is a player who was ranked in the top-40 in the world last year at this time. Yet he has qualified for the signature events. Power tied for 16th at Quail Hollow.

Viktor Hovland
Hovland closed with a 69 to tie for 24th in one of his better finishes of the season, offering a glimmer of hope he is getting through his swing changes and can perhaps be a factor this week at Valhalla.

Webb Simpson
Simpson, Mr. Sponsor's Invite, tied for 24th, his best showing among the four free passes he got into signature events. He's won well in excess of $400,000 grand in those four tournaments.

Matt Kuchar
Kuchar got a nice little gift in the form of a sponsor's invite. He tied for 34th to earn a little more than $100,000 for the week. Now 45, Kuchar has fallen very far since flirting with the top 50 of the OWGR last year and he won't even be in the PGA Championship.

Wyndham Clark
A tie for 47th in your title defense was not a great result for Clark, especially coming off a missed cut at the Masters and a week before the next major.

Tony Finau
Finau's game continues to fall. He tied for 52nd.

Will Zalatoris
Zalatoris returned after withdrawing from last week's Byron Nelson citing a back flareup. He played four rounds but tied for 60th, not exactly eliciting hope for a quality showing at the PGA Championship.

MYRTLE BEACH CLASSIC

Chris Gotterup arrived out of Oklahoma in 2022 with much fanfare. He didn't make much of a dent and was relegated this season to the Korn Ferry Tour. But no more. Gotterup won the opposite-field tournament to not only lock up his card for two more seasons but he will be at Valhalla this week. Blades Brown became the latest teenager to announce himself on the PGA Tour. The 16-year-old tied for 26th.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for nine years. Len is a three-time winner of the FSWA DFS Writer of the Year Award (2020, '22 and '23) and a five-time nominee (2019-23). He is also a writer and editor for MLB Advanced Media.
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