For all the talk about the greens, Rory McIlroy's most important club was his driver Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship. McIlroy kept the ball...
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For all the talk about the greens, Rory McIlroy’s most important club was his driver Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship.
McIlroy kept the ball in play at Quail Hollow and gave himself plenty of birdie chances on a cloudy, soft afternoon. He ran off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch around the turn and finished with an 8-foot birdie putt for a 5-under-par 67 to share the lead with six other players, including Ryan Moore from Puyallup.
It was the first time this year McIlroy has been atop the leaderboard after any round, and the first time he broke par in the opening round.
“Now that I feel like I’m swinging it well, this is the sort of golf I expect to play,” McIlroy said.
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Moore, Nick Watney, Robert Garrigus and PGA Tour rookie Derek Ernst shot 67 in the morning. Daniel Summerhays and Nate Smith, a Monday qualifier, joined McIlroy by posting their 67s in the afternoon.
Phil Mickelson and Lucas Glover were in a large group at 68, with 19-year-old Jordan Spieth in another big group at 69.
The talk going into the Wells Fargo Championship was the shape of the greens. Two of the putting surfaces had to be entirely replaced by sod just a week ago — the 10th green had to be sodded twice — and the other greens were ragged. Some had ugly patches of brown where there was no grass.
But they weren’t as bad as players feared, and there wasn’t much public grumbling, mainly because Quail Hollow has a history of being in pristine shape and players seemed willing to accept this is an exceptionally bad year.
“It was fine,” Boo Weekley said after his 68. “First off, they were pretty smooth. It ain’t 100 percent, but I mean they’re good enough to play golf on.”
The bigger problem was cool, soft conditions that made Quail Hollow seem longer than usual. That’s why McIlroy was so pleased with missing only three fairways. The greens weren’t smooth, but they were soft enough that getting into position off the tee was pivotal in setting up birdie chances.
It’s just one round, though it feels like a long way from a few months ago. The start to the season for McIlroy was marked by a missed cut, a first-round loss in the Match Play Championship, walking out of the Honda Classic from frustration after 27 holes and loads of speculation about his decision to change equipment after last year.
Thursday was another step in the right direction.
“It’s big strides because my game wasn’t where it should have been at all at the start of the year,” McIlroy said. “Got into a couple of bad habits on my swing, and it just took me a little bit of time to get out of them.”
Jeff Gove of Seattle shot a 72. Former Husky Richard H. Lee had a 73. Kyle Stanley from Gig Harbor shot a 74. Andres Gonzales from Olympia had a 77.
• Thai 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va.
Cristie Kerr, the only-two time winner in the tour’s eight previous visits to the River Course, had six birdies and one bogey in a 66 that put her alone in second place.
Former Husky Paige Mackenzie shot a 71. Washington resident Wendy Ward had a 73. Former Cougar Kim Welch shot a 79.
• Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the China Open, while 12-year-old Ye Wocheng opened with a 79 at Binhai Lake in Tianjin. Ye became the youngest player in European Tour history.