Rory McIlroy returns to happy place as he aims to gain USPGA Championship boost

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Rory McIlroy returns to happy place as he aims to gain USPGA Championship boost - GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy returns to happy place as he aims to gain USPGA Championship boost - GETTY IMAGES

Rory McIlroy will arrive at the Wells Fargo Championship on his 32nd birthday on Tuesday hopeful that one of his favourite stamping grounds can inspire a march back up the rankings after falling to his lowest position in more than 11 years.

The Northern Irishman has not been seen since last month's Masters, where he followed his poor showing at The Players Championship with his second missed cut in three events.

This inactivity has cause him to plunge another two places to 15th in the world, his worst standing since 2009, when he was a 20-year-old who was not even a member on the PGA Tour. Since then, he has spent 98 weeks at world No 1, most recently in June last year.

In those 11 months after the Tour resumed from the Covid-19, it has been a swift descent indeed, but the good news is that Quail Hollow holds special memories to McIlroy. The last time he missed the Masters cut was in 2010 and he bounced straight back in his next event — here at the Wells Fargo — to win for the first time on US soil.

His Sunday 62 is classed as one of the great final rounds on Tour and he showed his fondness for Quail Hollow when only losing in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in 2012 before winning again in 2015.

In nine appearances in the tournament, he has amassed seven top 10s and even if a first win in 20 months might seem a bit fanciful, he will be looking for a return to form ahead of the USPGA Championship in two weeks time.

The venue for the year's second major is also packed with positive omens — McIlroy won the USPGA at Kiawah Island by eight shots in 2012.

McIlroy spent the weekend in Florida with new coach Pete Cowen, but the Yorkshireman will not be accompanying him to Charlotte. It is fair to say McIlroy knows what to expect this week, in a field also featuring the world's No 2 and 3 in Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, as well as Bryson DeChambeau.

Thomas is sure there will be a McIlroy upturn very soon. "I've been very surprised (by McIlroy's form) — I think we all have been," Thomas said. "Because although Rory is one of the most talented players ever, what goes underrated is how hard he works. The thing about Rory is, I know he will work his way through this and will win a lot more tournaments and a lot more majors. I still and will always have maybe more respect for him than anybody because he is one of the nicest guys I've ever met for how much success he's had."

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