Rory McIlroy shows resilience to recover from sloppy start at Wells Fargo
Rory McIlroy shot his worst Quail Hollow opening round in five seasons at the Wells Fargo Championship yesterday, but the defending champion served notice that he is only warming up at one of his favourite venues.
The Ulsterman never looked completely comfortable as he tuned into competitive golf again in his first tournament since the Masters. Had he been asked beforehand if he would settle for a one-over par 73, McIlroy would not have been impressed.
As events transpired, the manner of that 73 left McIlroy in slightly better mood than might have been expected. By the end of his front nine, he had slumped to four-over, but the mood lifted as he shot four birdies on his back nine.
That run, which included a hat-trick of birdies on holes five through seven, enabled McIlroy to reduce the slippage on clubhouse leader Anirban Lahiri, who got home in a bogey-free 66.
Starting at the 10th tee, the World No.3 attracted huge galleries. This course will always hold happy memories for McIlroy as he won there for the first time on the PGA Tour in 2010. He missed the cut in 2011, the year he joined the hallowed ranks of Major champions by winning the US Open at Congressional.
Since then, McIlroy had never started at Quail Hollow with a score higher than 70 until yesterday. His results have shown an admirable level of consistency year on year over 72 holes, including setting a course record 61 in round three last year.
In the last four Wells Fargo championships, he had four top-10s, including joint-second to Rickie Fowler in 2012 and the win last year.
Chilly early morning temperatures and blustery winds made for slightly uncomfortable but tolerable playing conditions as McIlroy teed off alongside his good friend and rival Fowler, and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
McIlroy had his difficulties on his front nine, with bogeys on the 12th and 13th, his third and fourth, and a double-bogey six at the 18th to turn in 40, four-over par. He took a par on the first, his 10th hole, and then nailed his first birdie on the par-three 11th.
On the next he drove into trees and ended up with a bogey five, before lifting the siege with three birdies in a row, leaving him at one-over with two holes to play.
McIlroy got down in two from 50 feet to save par on the eighth, and shaved the cup with a birdie attempt on the ninth hole.
Padraig Harrington’s highlight was an eagle three on the par-five 15th hole. Otherwise it was a moderate display, as he signed for 74, two-over par.
The European Tour, meanwhile, pitched up at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Morocco for the Trophée Hassan 11.
Kevin Phelan, the Mount Juliet touring professional, was best of the Irish with a two-under 70.
That placed him tied-ninth, just two shots behind joint leaders Jason Scrivener, Francesco Laporta and Thomas Linard.
Northern Ireland’s Cormac Sharvin, a member of the winning GB & Ireland Walker Cup team last year, carded 73, while fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey was on 77.