Washington — Rory McIlroy celebrated his 33rd birthday on Wednesday with a trip to the site of his first major victory before defending his title at the US PGA Wells Fargo Championship.
The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland won his third Wells Fargo crown, and the 19th of his 20 career US PGA titles, last May at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Because Quail Hollow is playing host to the Presidents Cup event between US and International teams in September, the PGA event was moved for one year to TPC Potomac at Avenel in suburban Washington.
It's a course McIlroy hadn't seen before playing 27 holes of practice ahead of Thursday's opening round.
"Any time you can defend a title, it's a nice thing to do," McIlroy said. "Obviously my success at this tournament has been at Quail Hollow and not here. Never played here before, never seen the venue.
"I guess as a replacement for Quail Hollow, it's a pretty nice one. From what I've seen the last couple days, I really like it. It's just a solid golf course. You can't really fake it around here. You've got to hit the ball really well."
The Avenel layout, a former PGA tournament host couse, is located across the street from Congressional Country Club, where McIlroy won his first major title at the 2011 US Open and where he went Wednesday to relive some of the memories from that breakthrough triumph.
"They gave me honorary membership and as a member I think it's only right I go over and at least show my face," McIlroy said.
"Yeah, 11 years ago does seem like a long time ago. It's a distant memory. I've watched it back so many times, I don't really remember the experience of it. I remember more just from watching on a laptop or a TV screen. It is cool. So good vibes from this area."
McIlroy says he has never played better than that week in June 2011, when he fired a 16-under-par 268 in wet conditions to win by eight strokes over Australian Jason Day.
"I still to this day think it's the best week of golf I've ever played in my life," McIlroy said. "The ball was on a string that week and you wish you could bottle that every single week that you play.
"That's still the benchmark of how I can play. That's as good as I could play that week. Just sort of how free flowing it was and how at ease I looked. Yeah, just sort of how comfortable I was with everything."
'My game is there'
McIlroy won the US Open after squandering a lead in the final round and losing the Masters two months earlier.
"That was still fresh in my memory," McIlroy recalled. "I was just so hyper-focused that week that I knew I was playing well, and I think just the lessons of Augusta, they stayed with me the whole way throughout the week and I didn't get ahead of myself. Mentally I was just in a really good place."
McIlroy needs only a Masters green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam and comes in after a career-best runner-up finish last month at Augusta National with a bogey-free 64 in the final round.
"If anything, it gives me comfort knowing that my game is there," McIlroy said. "No, not more expectation or pressure. That has always been there, but I got a lot of confidence from that round on Sunday. I did a lot of great things. It's something to definitely build on over the next few weeks."