Rory McIlroy demolishes Xander Schauffele, everyone else, to head to Valhalla on fire

Rory McIlroy made double bogey on the 72nd hole and still shot a final-round 65 Sunday to win the Wells Fargo Championship by five shots over Xander Schauffele. The two men made the turn at even par and appeared to be in the midst of a great duel to determine the winner of the signature event before McIlroy easily captured his 26th PGA Tour victory.

Here is a play-by-play diary from the back nine on Sunday. Everything below was written as it happened, starting on the 10th hole at Quail Hollow.

Hole 10

To this point, everything has been perfect. The Wells Fargo felt very much like a two-man duel at the start of the round, and as Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy make the turn, it is now abundantly clear that—barring anyone in the chase pack making a series of eagles and aces that force us to question our own reality—nobody else has a chance. A lot of players have been stuck in neutral as Quail Hollow firms up, and Sungjae Im, solo third at the start of the day and perhaps the only one with a vaguely realistic shot at joining the fray, is in the midst of a disaster, with four bogeys on the front.

Only two contenders remain, and not only are they deadlocked here at 13 under, but the way they got deadlocked was steeped in drama. McIlroy erased the one-shot deficit immediately with a birdie on No. 1, but Schauffele held tough and eventually took a two-shot lead with a brilliant eagle at the virtually un-eagle-able seventh. Rory made a disappointing par, but just when it seemed like momentum might slip, he went birdie-birdie on eight and nine to tie it up. Now he’s got the crowd on his side and a boatload of momentum, while Schauffele has to contend with a recent slew of top-10s without a win, and a few anemic Sunday performances that he’d like to forget, most notably at the Players Championship. Things are looking mighty good for Rory.

Meanwhile, here in Durham, N.C., I’m encamped in my shed for the last couple hours, having just completed a furious round of clothes folding and dish washing so that my wife doesn’t hate me for abandoning her on Mother’s Day. Things are fine, because my wife is cool, but I wouldn’t say they’re better than fine, so I have never been more interested in pace of play … if I don’t get done in time to help with bedtime, we might be in trouble.

So here we go … Rory starts the par-5 10th with one of his gaudy bombs, this one traveling 367 yards despite the fact that it ends in the rough. Xander’s significantly behind him, but they both reach the green in two, and oh baby, it is ON. This is exactly what we want …

… and Rory has just buried his 33-foot eagle. Vintage Rory alert! The killer is back, just before Valhalla! It feels like a critical moment, too, because Schauffele had just 11 feet, and Rory’s eagle is the kind of cage rattler which makes converting an eagle really hard. He doesn’t and has to “settle” for birdie as Rory takes his first outright lead of the day. This is going to be fun.

Hole 11

I’m just going to say it—I think Xander absolutely has a ruthless closer mode, and we’ve seen it before, but I’m not so sure he has it this year. I may end up eating my words, but right from the start, I could never close my eyes and picture a scenario in which he beat Rory here, and despite Rory’s success here at Quail Hollow, where he’s won three times, he’s not exactly known as the world’s foremost closer at this point either. But it just feels like he’s got a little more dog in him than Xander … we’ll see.

Neither is going to be outright thrilled at their result here; Rory finds a bunker and can only lay up to the fairway, while Xander’s approach from 137 flies well past the hole. Both do well to make par, and Rory keeps his one-shot lead.

Hole 12

“Time to put your foot on the gas, Xander,” Trevor Immelman advises from the television tower, but his approach from the middle of the fairway is pretty gnarly yet again, spinning off the green and into the fringe 47 feet away. This was his problem yesterday, too; put him in the middle of the fairway, and he has trouble giving himself a decent birdie look. Which raises the question: what does it look like him for to win this thing? A Rory meltdown? Hang tough and try to poach a couple at the end?

Rory’s behind the green, and almost sinks his downhill pitch, but Schauffele’s putt is deeply uninspiring, stalling 11 feet short and threatening to roll all the way back to him. He can’t make the par, Rory can, and it’s a two-shot lead now as Immelman calls his play on the last two holes “terrible, terrible mistakes.”

On one hand, two shots feels like nothing on this course. On the other, it already feels like he’s hanging on by a thread.

Hole 13

Rory has such swagger right now as he drops a 9-iron 13 feet from the hole on the 180-yard par-3 (I also played a 180-yard par-3 this morning, and I used a 4-hybrid). He has fooled me into getting extremely hopeful just before a major before, and let me tell you, he’s doing it again. I’m not normally a superstitious fellow, but at this moment in time I’m utterly convinced that he had to return to Valhalla to break the major curse of the last decade, and that he’s going to rediscover his old self in Kentucky. Today’s action has done nothing to dissuade me.

Meanwhile, Schauffele is off the back of the green, and we are officially in the danger zone. If things go really wrong here, the lead could extend to four shots, and sorry, there’s no way Rory’s blowing that at Quail Hollow. Nantz just said the same thing—this feels like it’s a two-shot swing away from being done-skie.

He barely even reacts, either. Just a slight wave, like it was all expected. The man is five under in his last six holes, and Schauffele seems like a shell of himself, missing his par putt. That worst case scenario described above has come to pass, and I’m going to check with my editors to see if I can just put this diary to bed …

… update, no.

Hole 14

With five holes left, the really interesting thing for me now is whether Rory is going to take his foot off the gas and try to coast with some sensible decisions. It would make sense, but it would also be a shame, because he has truly got the bit between his teeth right now. We’re going to see right now, because 14 is a reachable par-4 but with plenty of risk because of water on the left. He opts for the 3-wood, and safely lands in the greenside bunker. Schauffele does better, with a slick 4-wood that runs off the bank and leaves him an eagle putt from off the green. It feels like he needs it, too.

To put Rory’s round so far into context, there are 68 players in the field, and only 19 of them either finished under par or are currently under par. Rory’s at five under for the day, which is tied with two others for the best of any player. In other words, at least until now, Schauffele never had a prayer.

The eagle try for Schauffele is rough, and the birdie putt is worse. It’s a hugely disappointing par, and you can already tell this is another Sunday he’ll be eager to forget. “It’s like he’s hanging on to an ice pick,” Dottie Pepper says, which is brutal but also the proper visual for the moment.

From six feet, Rory is once again perfect, and his birdie gives him another shot in what has turned into a runaway.

Hole 15

If you’re a Rory fan, you probably feel like he hasn’t made a critical long putt in a major in about 10 years, which is why today’s putting display is so … titillating? Is that too strong? It opens up a world of possibilities, starting (obviously) next week. The difference between here and there, beyond one being a signature and one being an actual major, is that at Valhalla we’re going to see a certain Mr. Scottie Scheffler, which is a whole other cup of tea. Still, this is so promising.

We’re on to the last par-5 and after Xander hits a nice pitch from greenside to give himself a birdie look, Dottie Pepper says “remember that one” as though it could be a significant moment. That seems … optimistic.

Ohhhhhh MY, Rory holes out his eagle pitch from the sand! This is absolutely insane stuff! Two eagles on the back nine! Eight under for his last eight holes! He chucks the ball into the crowd with a smile, and I believe that whoever catches it will have 100 years of good luck. This is egregious.

You know that Simpsons meme with the kid saying “stop, stop! He’s already dead!” We’re witnessing one of those moments in action right now with Rory and Xander, and if this was a fight, Xander’s caddie would be throwing in the towel. This has got to be the best final round of Rory’s entire career, and after Schauffele makes his birdie, chants of “Rory! Rory!” break out.

Hole 16

It really felt like the green mile would hold a ton of drama today, with three of the four hardest holes on the course, but, uhhh … nope! And you have to feel for Xander here … the man is under par on a very tough course on a very tough day, and he’s being bludgeoned without mercy. He’s living proof that winning is hard; this result will make eight top-10s in 12 events on the year for him, he’s going to move from third to second in the FedEx Cup rankings, and every time he tries to get an actual win he runs into someone like McIlroy or Scheffler who seem to exist on a different plane.

Meanwhile, Xander finds another fairway, and fails to find another green. This feels like a pretty big issue, especially because it happens more often under pressure.

Rory misses his long birdie putt by about an inch and has the audacity to show some frustration … you’ve got to tip your cap. The only thing left for him to chase here is the tournament record. Right now, he’s tied with Wyndham Clark’s 19 under from last year, and he has two more chances to get to 20.

Hole 17

Hear me out—if Rory holes his 16-footer on the par-3 after an excellent tee shot, then somehow makes an ace on the 505-yard 18th, he’ll have a 59.

Perhaps that’s slightly unrealistic, but I just noticed that CBS’ bumper music as they go to commercials is “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, which Rory sang after winning the Zurich Classic with Shane Lowry, and you don’t need to tell me twice; I am fully believin’.

Well, until he missed his birdie putt. Now it feels like 59 is off the table. But though he had to settle for par, some guy in the crowd yelled out “Rory, my kid likes you better than me!” So that’s a consolation prize, I guess.

Hole 18

This is like the final Paris stage of the Tour de France when the winning rider is leading by a half hour and he just spends the entire time riding at about 20 percent capacity. I half expect Rory to drink a glass of champagne as he walks down the fairway.

Let’s briefly shout out Ben An, who shot a 66 to take solo third when nobody else seemed to want it. That’s an incredible score on a day like this, and in fact it’s the best in the field … except for Rory, who dunks one in the water on the final hole just for kicks, couldn’t care less, makes double, and still has the round of the day with a 65. It’s his fourth win at Quail, and here are some stats for the week:

—1st in SG: Off the Tee
—2nd in SG: Approach
—4th in SG: Around the Green
—8th in SG: Putting

There are no weaknesses! He speaks with Amanda Balionis and mentions how he has a strange ability to go on wild runs at Quail and credits the fans for their support and for watching him grow up as a professional.

“It feels like the stars are aligning a little bit,” he says about Valhalla, and we’re all looking ahead with him. It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves, especially at a course like this where he’s always thrived, but if you’re a Rory fan, you’ve got to be feeling optimistic.

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