McIlroy optimistic for soaked Wells Fargo

POTOMAC, Md. — Wearing black rain pants on a soggy and foggy Wednesday morning, Rory McIlroy still had a bounce in his step and plenty to smile about as he chatted with reporters, signed autographs and posed for selfies outside the clubhouse at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.

He’s coming off a career-best second at the Masters, courtesy of a brilliant closing 64, and he has many fond memories of the Maryland suburb of Washington. A mile east at Congressional, McIlroy played what he still describes as the best golf of his life, an eight-stroke win at the 2011 US Open.

“I was driving here yesterday morning and taking any road and looked left and thought, ‘This looks like Congress. Oh, it’s in Congress,”,” McIlroy said. “So good vibes, obviously, from that area.”

McIlroy, who turned 33 on Wednesday, has a more recent title to defend this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, although he will have to do so at a course where he has never competed. His win last year was his third at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the tournament is taking a year-long detour to TPC Potomac as its usual venue prepares to host the Presidents Cup in September.

McIlroy declares himself a fan of the tree-lined, trouble-packed layout that has had a mixed reputation for 35 years as an intermittent PGA Tour venue.

“It’s just a solid golf course. You can’t really fake it here,” McIlroy said. “You have to hit the ball very well. The green complexes are tricky targets and quite small. The rough may not be as high as they usually have here due to the time of year, but all in all, a really solid test.”

And a wet one, thanks to an inch of rain that fell in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. More rain is expected on Friday and Saturday, along with cool temperatures and strong winds this weekend.

McIlroy won his four major championships in relatively soggy conditions, cementing a reputation for being muddy that he finds a bit unfair.

“I’ve won 30 times around the world. Not all of those weeks have been wet and rainy,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good in most conditions.”

He’s the main attraction at TPC Potomac during part of the PGA Tour schedule when top players are choosy about where they play, with three major championships looming in the next 10 weeks. McIlroy at No. 7 is the highest-ranked player in the pack, followed by Tony Finau (No. 18) and Abraham Ancer (No. 20).

And while McIlroy has been somewhat overlooked as the Masters approached, the roars that accompanied his final shot on Sunday – a hole from a greenside bunker – reminded everyone of his star quality and still immense potential.

“It comforts me to know my game is there,” McIlroy said. “I gained a lot of confidence in this round on Sunday. I did a lot of good things. It’s something that will definitely have to build on over the next few weeks.”

He will be reunited today and Friday with veterans Webb Simpson and Francesco Molinari, who has fond memories around here. Molinari shot a final round 62 for an eight-shot win in the PGA Tour’s final event at TPC Potomac, the 2018 Quicken Loans National. Three weeks later, he won his only major at the British Open, fending off Tiger each time. Woods.

The following year at the Masters, Molinari’s tee shot into the water on the par-3 12th allowed Woods to take control. It was the start of a precipitous decline for the Italian, ranked 203rd in the world.

Simpson missed seven weeks at the start of the year with a neck injury and fell to 45th in the standings. He said he roughly tripled his time in the gym before rounds to keep his neck loose. Also missing is the easy drive to Quail Hollow, his home club.

“It was 20 minutes this morning, up from two,” Simpson said.

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