World No. 1 Rory McIlroy strengthened his grip on that spot with a virtuoso performance at the Wells Fargo Championship last week, his 12th top-five finish and sixth win in his last 19 starts.
His 21-under-par total of 267 broke the tournament scoring record by five shots, and his third-round 61 (-11) broke the tournament single-round record of 62, which he set in the final round of his win in 2010.
Third round for the ages
McIlroy took control of this one Saturday with his tournament-record 61, which featured nine birdies in a 10-hole stretch.
Entering the day three shots off the lead, he was four shots in front when the round was over, making this the third time in his last five stroke-play victories that he’s held at least a four-shot lead entering the final round.
His third round was a ball-striking clinic: Despite making 11 birdies (a career best on the PGA Tour) and needing 23 putts (more on that later), McIlroy didn’t make any putt longer than 14 feet, 5 inches all day.
McIlroy’s average successful birdie putt traveled 7 feet, 3 inches, and four of them came from inside 5 feet.
His tee-to-green dominance began with the driver, where he led the field in driving distance at 321.1 yards. His final three drives of the round Saturday traveled an average of 342.3 yards, and that distance allowed him to handle Quail Hollow’s most difficult holes with relative ease.
During the tournament, the 18th and 16th holes played as the most difficult and second-most difficult holes, respectively. But McIlroy’s massive drives gave him approach shots of 144 yards (16th) and 134 yards (18th) on those holes. Both of those holes played longer than 490 yards on the scorecard last week.
He was two under on those holes for the week -- 4.43 strokes better than field average.
Par-5s were par-4s
As usual, McIlroy cleaned up on the par-5s, making 13 birdies or better -- tied with Patrick Rodgers for the field lead. McIlroy’s distance off the tee allowed him to go for the green in two on a par-5 (or off the tee on a par-4) on 19 occasions -- second-most in the field.
On those 19 holes, McIlroy was 15 under, the best score relative to par of the week when going for the green. That was thanks to remarkable accuracy on those shots: an average proximity to the hole of 48 feet when he went for it, by far the best of any player who attempted at least 15 such shots.
Lapping the field -- again
It all added up to a seven-shot advantage for McIlroy, his third win with that margin or larger out of 11 total wins on the PGA Tour.
Since the start of the 1997 season (Tiger Woods’ first full season on the PGA Tour), Woods has 12 wins by seven shots or more on Tour. Even though McIlroy didn’t get his first PGA Tour win until 2010, his total of three such wins is second on Tour since Woods’ first full season.
Since the start of 2011, McIlroy’s three wins by seven shots or more equals the total from the rest of the players on the PGA Tour combined.