Rory McIlroy racked up his 11th PGA Tour win with an impressive seven-shot victory in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and admitted that a weight has been lifted since he went to the Masters seeking the career Grand Slam.
While last night's win"only" puts him tied 86th on the list of all-time PGA Tour winners alongside the likes of Miller Barber and Al Geiberger, he at least matched Masters winners Zach Johnson and Adam Scott with 11 titles.
Getting that elusive green jacket is at the top of McIlroy's wish list and while he'll be looking to the US Open at Chamber's Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the US PGA at Whistling Straits before returning to Augusta National, he admitted in Charlotte last night that he's played like a man with a weight lifted from his shoulders since the Masters.
Last night's win — he followed his course record 61 on Saturday with a 69 to finish with a record, 21-under par total — was his second since he failed to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National in April.
Since finishing a career best fourth in the Masters, McIlroy has won the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play, tied for eighth in The Players and now won his second title at Quail Hollow, five years after notching is maiden PGA Tour win at the venue.
"I'm not going to lie," McIlroy said of his post-Masters explosion and last night's seven shot win over Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson. "There was a lot of expectation going into Augusta, a lot of hype, lot of expectation that I put on myself. It was a great opportunity to do something that very few players in this game have done.
"I'll go back next year with the same opportunity. But, yeah, since then I guess it was a little bit of a weight lifted off the shoulders and free up and not think about it and just go on and play the rest of the season and play the way I know that I can play and that's why I'm excited about what's coming up with the three Majors still to play and everything else."
McIlroy has now won three times this season having claimed the Dubai Desert Classic and he now has 17 official victories, including four majors and two WGCs, since he won for the first time in Dubai in February 2009.
"I don't feel like my game has ever been in better shape," he said last night after knocking five shots off the tournament scoring record and extending his lead over Jordan Spieth at the top of the world rankings to 4.46 points.
There has never been any doubt about McIlroy's talent but one often wondered what he might accomplish if he had the mental game to go with the ball-striking prowess. Now, it appears, he has just about everything bar an utterly consistent putting game, which is a scary though for his rivals.
"I just feel like all aspects of my game are working well, whenever I win, here by 7 shots, U.S. Open, PGA by 8 shots, if I miss a green I'm able to get it up and down and giving myself plenty of chances for birdies. You know, I'll always go on a stretch in a tournament like I did -- even at -- even at Augusta I shot 31 on the back-9 on Friday and then I shot 32 on the front-9 on Saturday."
There was a time when he would open the door with some loose shots. Nowadays, that’s unlikely and he didn’t need to finish with six threes as he did in 2010.
Asked to compare this win to 2010, he smiled and said: ”Sort of boring 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. As I said, 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 here. Shoot 69, get the job done. I’ve learned how to handle these positions and I’m finishing the job off the way I should, which is very pleasing."
Quail Hollow was the third leg of a five-week run that continues with the BMW PGA at Wentworth this week, followed by the Irish Open at Royal County Down.
He’s played 250 competitive holes in the last three weeks but he’s managed his time well and he’s not surprised he’s been able to keep his energy levels up.
“No, because I’ve been trying to manage it,” he said. “I've been trying to stay away from the golf course as much as I can, not spend the time I need to there.
"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.”
Asked if there were aspects of his game he’d like to improve before The Open Championship and PGA, he said: “I like to get a little bit more consistent with my putting.
“I have days where everything falls like yesterday and days like today I feel like I putt okay but nothing really drops then in that sort of 8 to 12-foot range.
"Just sharpen up a little bit on that. But then most other areas of my game are, I feel, in a really good place.”
That’s great news for Irish golf fans and ominous for the rest