CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy’s putter is just one tool in his toolbox.
Apparently, he wants to make sure his putter understands that.
After all the extra time McIlroy has spent with his putter the last two weeks, he sounded Thursday like a man who doesn’t want the shortest club in his bag developing an overly important sense of itself.
“I’ve always been the type of player that I’ve never had to rely on my putting too much,” McIlroy said after posting a 3-under-par 69 to get in the early hunt at the Wells Fargo Championship. “Obviously, you putt well, you're going to do well and contend in tournaments.
“But, I feel like I've always been a different sort of player, where even if sometimes I don't putt so well, I'll still be able to get it under par, because I can hit the greens on the par 5s and two-putt those and hit a couple of iron shots close.
“I never felt like I needed to rely on my putting so much.”
You got that, little stick?
McIlroy’s quotes came after he was asked if his struggles with his putter ever seep into the rest of his game.
His answer was terrific.
His answer was the hard logic of a tough competitor refusing to let a potentially damaging idea take hold.
Yes, of course, putting is important, but McIlroy can beat you even if his flat stick isn’t fully cooperating. That’s what he’s telling anyone who doubts him. That’s what he’s telling himself, really.
“To be honest, he hasn’t really putted that well this year,” Dave Stockton told GolfChannel.com after walking with McIlroy Wednesday in the pro-am.
Stockton then went on to explain that McIlroy seems to have fixed himself. McIlroy did so without asking Stockton for help following a miserable putting effort at the Masters two weeks ago. So there you have it again. If McIlroy isn’t going to rely too much on his putter, he isn’t going to rely too much on a putting coach, either.
“I think he really did figure it out on his own, and he looked good to me,” Stockton said. “I just let him go.”
McIlroy entered the Wells Fargo Championship 141st in strokes gained putting. He has failed to crack the top 100 in strokes gained putting in three of his four years as a PGA Tour member. In his big year in 2012, when McIlroy won four PGA Tour titles, including the PGA Championship, he was just 82nd in strokes gained putting.
At Quail Hollow on Thursday, McIlroy wasn’t bad with his putter, but he had to walk away feeling like he hit the ball well enough to go even lower. He missed a 3-footer for par at the fourth hole. He missed a 10-footer for birdie at the eighth and a 7-footer for birdie at the 12th.
“It was a good start, good score,” said McIlroy, who won his first PGA Tour title here at Quail Hollow in 2010. “I probably could have squeezed a couple more out of it.”
McIlroy made some good putts Thursday. He holed a 6-footer for birdie right out of the gate at No. 10. He holed a nice 7-footer for par at the 14th and a 40-footer for birdie at the 18th. He ran off five one-putts in a row closing out his first nine.
“I holed some nice putts today, which was good to see,” McIlroy said. “At least it tells me the stuff I’m working on is going in the right direction.”
If there’s a club McIlroy truly adores, it’s his driver. He was asked Thursday if his putter can dent his confidence in the 13 other clubs, but McIlroy’s confidence runs the other way. He believes his confidence feeds from the driver down through his bag. He believes when he’s hitting driver well, the rest of his game will fall in line.
“He hits it farther than I thought, hits it really far,” said Jonas Blixt, who played with McIlroy for the first time on Thursday. “Some really big drives.”
What McIlroy liked most about his round is how he manhandled the par 5s. He birdied three of the four.
At Augusta National, McIlroy finished third-to-last in the field in putting, and he played the par 5s in even par for the week.
“Playing the par 5s today in 3 under was much better,” McIlroy said.
That bodes well for McIlroy as he seeks to claim his second PGA Tour title here.