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Classy Rory storms into the lead at Quail Hollow

 

Rory McIlroy will compete at the 2020 Olympic Games
Rory McIlroy will compete at the 2020 Olympic Games
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Rory McIlroy tweeted on Wednesday evening that the Wells Fargo Championship is "one of (his) favourite stops on the PGA Tour", and in yesterday's opening round he most certainly proved it.

Perhaps more accurately he proved it on the back nine, because after a so-so front nine that saw him turn in level par, the Ulsterman shifted into fifth gear, turned on the afterburners and streaked away from the rest of the field before anybody else had a chance to blink.

Five birdies and no dropped shots on the back nine, which even included a lip-out for another birdie on the 18th, saw the World No.4 set the mark in the clubhouse at five under with an opening round of 67 to hold a one-shot overnight lead.

He has plenty of players right on his tail, with five in a share of second - including Patrick Reed - and a large supporting cast two strokes back too, but if McIlroy can replicate yesterday's form for the rest of the weekend then there are none that will be able to touch him.

He loves Quail Hollow, the scene of his first PGA Tour victory, and he's already set himself up perfectly for a crack at his third title around the Charlotte track with this opening round.

For a long time it didn't look it, a scrambling birdie from the pine straw at the second all he could manage in the early holes, and when he gave that shot back at the seventh after failing to make up-and-down from a greenside bunker, it looked like that blip at the Masters might have derailed his pre-Augusta momentum.

But, like McIlroy always can, he turned on the style and then some.

Back-to-back birdies to start the back nine got the ball rolling, with his outstanding approach on the 11th to just a foot one of the shots of the day, and it should have been three in a row after the Holywood man played the shot of the first day by a long margin.

In the pine straw off the tee at the par-four 12th, right behind a tree, McIlroy played a low, running cut through the branches that only a professional could try and pull off.

The shot looked awkward, the result was not. The ball rolled to three feet and the sheepish grin from McIlroy spoke volumes.

It evaporated quickly when the putt rolled by the hole, an ever-present reminder that the Ulsterman's frailties with the flat iron still exist and can always flare up at awkward moments.

But for all that concern, it didn't last long. McIlroy found a greenside bunker at the driveable par-four 14th, from which he made up-and-down for birdie, which he then backed up with back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th to take him into the solo lead for the first time.

The round even finished on something of a damp squib when an 11-footer for birdie on the last stayed above ground after he put a nice roll on it.

At the end of the day, however, that won't be of too much concern. He's got a pep in his step and a smile on his face - McIlroy loves Quail Hollow.

"I always think if you can get through the first six holes then you've got 10, 12 if you hit a good tee shot, 14, 15, that's where you have to make up your shots and thankfully that's what I did today," commented McIlroy.

• Michael Hoey is tied for a share of the lead after the opening round of the Challenge de Espana in Urturi near Bilbao.

Hoey shot a five-under-par 67 to open the tournament, carding six birdies and just a solitary bogey to sit level at the top with Austria's Martin Wiegele.

Like McIlroy, it was a blistering back nine that did it for Ulsterman Hoey, making the turn in one under before carding four birdies in his final five holes to join the clubhouse lead.

Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin finished his opening round with a one-over 73, with Bangor's Daniel Peacock at six over and struggling to make the cut.

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