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Wells Fargo Championship: Rory McIlroy has hollow, sinking feeling

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 5, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 5, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 5, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina

Rory McIlroy beat Quail Hollow with an imperious 62 as he marched to his first PGA Tour victory last year, but this classy golf course was the clear winner yesterday as the gifted young Ulsterman opened his Wells Fargo Championship defence with a stuttering three-over-par 75.

If the good people of Charlotte, North Carolina, saw McIlroy at his magical best on that unforgettable weekend last May, they've now been given a close-up view of the short-game frailties which lay behind his nightmare final round 80 at last month's US Masters.

McIlroy started working at Quail Hollow this week with Dave Stockton, the former US Ryder Cup captain who helped Phil Mickelson and Annika Sorenstam get the utmost out of their game on and around the putting green.

And judging by this latest performance, it has not come a moment too soon. Overall, McIlroy played poorly yesterday, which to some extent was understandable; the 22-year-old was on a real hiding to nothing as he stepped onto the 10th tee, which was his first.

The last time he played this nine, McIlroy had been lifted and carried on a tidal wave of noise and excitement, picking up four birdies and an eagle.

In the relative stillness and silence of early morning yesterday, he started with a morale-sapping bogey six.

McIlroy played badly from tee to green, only finding eight of 14 fairways and hitting just 10 of 18 greens in regulation.

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Yet Padraig Harrington performed even worse in both departments and still out-scored McIlroy by six strokes, signing for a three-under-par 69, which left him just three shy of the early clubhouse lead held jointly by American duo Jonathan Byrd and David Toms.

The difference lay in Harrington's renowned short game. The Dubliner repeatedly landed himself in trouble but scrambled brilliantly, picking up just one bogey.

McIlroy confidence surely was dented by his opening bogey on the par-five 10th. After pushing his opening tee shot into the right rough, he hit a 262-yard three-wood and was just 26 yards short of the sloping green in two.

He took four strokes to get down from there. Even though a three-putt from distance for a bogey five at the ninth brought his total for the first round to 32, there were no glaring misses from close range.

McIlroy famously made the cut on the mark last year after opening with a level-par 72, followed by a 73 on Friday, and then carved up Quail Hollow and his rivals by playing the next 36 holes in 16-under. After yesterday's effort he'll need to hit the throttle hard today to have any chance of playing 72 holes this week.

Meanwhile, Gareth Maybin posted a one over par 73 at the Spanish Open and Damien McGrane a 10-over par 82 including five bogeys and three double bogeys.


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