CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rory McIlroy tried everything he could to forget about golf in the days following the Masters.
He binge-watched “Billions.” He read a couple of books: “The Chimp Paradox” and “Essentialism.” And he knocked back a few bottles of wine — “that sounds really bad; it wasn’t that bad,” McIlroy said with a sheepish grin — before his wife Erica finally had enough and dragged him out of the house.
She told him they needed to go do something — anything. All of that other stuff wasn’t working.
McIlroy was upset after a final round 74 at Augusta National last month kept him from winning the one major that has eluded the 28-year-old during his exceptional professional career.
“The Masters has become the biggest golf tournament in the world and I’m comfortable saying that,” McIlroy said. “I don’t care about the U.S. Open or The Open Championship. It is the biggest tournament in the world. It has the most amount of eyeballs, the most amount of hype. The most amount of everything is at Augusta.”
So not winning affected McIlroy a little more than your average tournament.
He played in the final pairing alongside Patrick Reed, but could never muster a charge. The three-shot deficit he started with that day stretched to six by the time he walked off the course. He finished tied for fifth at 9 under, six strokes behind Reed.
McIlroy said in the days that followed he spent time replaying bad shots in his head.
“It was just the quiet moments when you’re staring off into the distance and you’re thinking about a certain shot or a certain putt and you’re just like. ... Yeah, it got to the point where I needed to see a bit of daylight and get outside and go for walks and start to do my usual thing,” McIlroy said.
But he said he’s focused on moving on.
If McIlroy is in need of an elixir for his Masters memories, a trip to one of his favorite courses, the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, might just do the trick.
He has won the Wells Fargo Championship here twice, setting a tournament record with a dominating seven-shot win in 2015. He also won in 2010, and has five top-10 finishes here in the last five years. Oddsmakers have listed him as the favorite to become the first player to win this event three times.
The need for strong long iron shots plays to McIlroy’s strengths.
“It’s one of those golf courses that sets up well for me,” McIlroy said. “It fits my eye. I feel like I can play my game around here and that served me pretty well over the years. Hopefully, this week’s another good week.”
But bouncing back with a win won’t be easy by any stretch.
This week he faces a star-studded field that includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Reed, among others.
McIlroy didn’t play well here last year at Quail Hollow when it hosted the PGA Championship, but back spasms played a role. Now he’s healthy and eager to find the top of the leaderboard.
If he plays like he did in 2015, it won’t be close.
McIlroy shot a course-record 61 in the third round to take control, then added a 69 on the final day to finish 21 under. He had 27 birdies in all and hit some of the most memorable shots of his career, several of which he recalls in an instant.
“It was one of those times where you get in the zone and you’re very aware of everything,” McIlroy said. “Your senses, all of your senses are just a little more heightened.”