2024 Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard: Rory McIlroy closes in on Xander

After 54 holes of play at Quail Hollow Golf Club this week, only two golfers remain with a legitimate chance of winning the 2024 Wells Fargo Championship. Those two — Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele — played together on Saturday in the final pairing, which is where they’ll be again on Sunday as they finish off what has been a nice final week before next week’s PGA Championship.

If Saturday’s third round was a fight — and based on the scoring average of nearly 73, it was — then the judges would have awarded it to McIlroy, who erased a four-shot deficit and turned it into just a one-shot gap going into Sunday at a place where he’s won three times in his career.

McIlroy drove the ball as well as I remember. It took an extraordinary short game from Schauffele, who was a bit looser from tee to green, not to lose even more ground than he did.

The result is a heads-up battle on Sunday for the sixth signature event on the PGA Tour schedule this season. Let’s look at who has the advantage and how it could all play out over the final 18 holes.

The leaders

1. Xander Schauffele (-12)
2. Rory McIlroy (-11)

It was apparent early on that McIlroy was on his game from tee to green and Schauffele was not. McIlroy ended the day as the only player in the field without a bogey, and he actually has not made one since the end of the day on Thursday. He joked afterward that now he knows how Scottie Scheffler feels.

His 67 was achieved mostly with driver (see the insane numbers below), but he also hit some better (not perfect, but better) approach shots. The scary part for Schauffele — and the rest of the field — is that Rory hasn’t really made any putts yet. If that happens on Sunday, it might be time to cancel Christmas.

As for Schauffele, he looked loose from tee to green all day and said so afterwards, noting that he was “slightly off” and that Quail Hollow punished him for being so.

The outright leader missed a lot of greens on Saturday, but his short game — and really mostly his putter — was incredibly impressive as he got up and down in seven of his eight attempts and only made one bogey.

He called the round “lazy” and said he had a few swings he’d like to have back. The good news for him is that he still shot 70 (three shots better than the field average) and the tournament still has 18 holes to go. He can absolutely make up those shots he felt like he threw away in Round 3.

The bad news for him is that a 25-time PGA Tour winner is in his pairing tomorrow.

Other contenders

3. Sungjae Im (-8)
4. Sepp Straka (-7)
5. Jason Day (-5)

These are the three worth mentioning, although I’m not sure how worth mentioning they truly are. Data Golf says there is a greater than 94% chance that Sunday’s winner comes from the final pairing.

Still, it was impressive golf from Im and Straka especially in the third round. On a day that played 2 over par, they played the course in a combined 6 under. Straka tied McIlroy for the round of the day with a 67, and only those two were better than Im.

“It’s a hard golf course,” said Straka. “I know I made some key putts out there to kind of keep the round going. I drove the ball really well, I hit a lot of fairways, put myself in a good position a lot. And yeah, iron play was solid. It’s hard to get the ball really close to these pin locations with the firm greens. Yeah, very happy with the round.”

Straka added during some mid-round coverage that the course played more difficult because golfers were not playing ball in hand like they did earlier in the week. Mud on the ball at times, combined with greens that were clearly trampolining more than they have been so far this week, ballooned scores two shots higher than they were on Thursday and Friday.

Rory’s driving was crazy

Here are McIlroy’s 13 drives on the day with ball speeds.

1

346

189.3

2

329

189.1

3

313

186.6

5

341

187.8

7

350

187.3

8

325

186.2

9

319

186.4

10

340

188.2

11

325

189.6

12

333

186.3

15

317

186.3

16

358

189.9

18

331

189.1

Here are the averages for McIlroy on Saturday.

  • Ball speed: 187.9 mph
  • Distance: 332.8 yards
  • Strokes gained: 2.99 (including 3 wood on No. 14)

My colleague Rick Gehman tells me it’s the fourth-best driving day of McIlroy’s entire career (with two others also taking place at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship).

It certainly looked that way from watching, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone having more control off the tee than he does right now, which is a scary proposition for next week’s PGA Championship.

2024 Wells Fargo Championship updated odds, picks

Odds via Sportsline consensus

  • Xander Schauffele: 10/11
  • Rory McIlroy: 11/10
  • Sungjae Im: 22-1
  • Sepp Straka: 45-1
  • Jason Day: 250-1

The guy in fifth place having 250-1 odds to win should tell you everything you need to know about this tournament. As far as the two at the top of this leaderboard, here’s a stat to remember going into the final round.

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