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Rory McIlroy Finds Ways to Turn Lemons into Trophies

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COMMENTARY | Consider Rory McIlroy a contrarian. Whenever a tournament venue does not seem to meet the field's expectations, that's when the Ulsterman seems to strike.

McIlroy shared the lead with six others players following the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday, May 2, opening with 5-under 67 at Quail Hollow, whose greens are the subject of a lot of scrutiny this week.

The PGA Tour and the club performed emergency surgery on two putting surfaces before the tournament, completely re-sodding the eighth and 10th greens because of their poor conditioning. The other surfaces have been said to be questionable in spots.

While many in the field were talking about the bumps and bare patches, McIlroy brushed aside using the greens as any excuse not to win a second Charlotte title.

"I guess if you start missing putts, then you've got to just accept it," the 2010 champion said ahead of the tournament. "I don't mind because I'm not a guy that relies on my putting, per se. So it will eliminate quite a lot of the field. I don't mind that at all."

Translation: I can hit it closer than anyone else, and I'm pretty sure a tap-in translates to any putting surface.

When a tournament is spun on itself, McIlroy finds a way to do handstands.

The 23-year-old (who turns 24 on Saturday) won his first major a couple of years ago at Congressional in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda, obliterating scoring records at the U.S. Open during a week when the U.S. Golf Association clearly could not control the immature putting surfaces how they wanted. A lot of rain and typical mid-Atlantic summer steaminess was the recipe for creating unprecedented scoring conditions. McIlroy embraced the challenge, winning by eight shots at 16-under-par, never flinching after realizing the game's toughest test was naked that week.

Fast forward to last summer and the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. To say the Ocean Course was a unique test that week would be an understatement. Tropical-force winds and a deluge of rain made Pete Dye's South Carolina puzzle into an even bigger Rubik's Cube -- for everyone but McIlroy. He blew the field away, again by eight shots, to claim a second major in as many years.

His first PGA Tour win in this event in 2010 was another example. Making the cut on the number, McIlroy shot a weekend 128 to capture the crown.

Quail Hollow may not be major-caliber this week, but in 2017 the Wanamaker Trophy is on the line there. In fact, all 18 putting surfaces will be redone after this week in preparation for that PGA Championship -- perhaps learning a lesson from the too-short schedule Congressional and the USGA used for the '11 Open. Next year's Wells Fargo will be the last look the PGA Tour regulars get at Quail Hollow before then.

A year ago, McIlroy lost in a three-man playoff at this tournament to Rickie Fowler, and then struggled through the months of May and June before finding his game in August to close out the year with a surge to bookend the start of his year.

McIlroy has been slow out of the gates this year, but Quail Hollow may be the spark he needs to quell talk of an equipment switch to Nike and propel him to another major triumph this summer.

Once again, just when it seems the golf world is ready to write off McIlroy, he is poised to strike.

Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel.

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