WILMINGTON (North Carolina) • World No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson declared himself ready to challenge for victory after a tidy return to competition left him four strokes behind first-round leader Francesco Molinari at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday.
Twenty-nine days after slipping down stairs and badly bruising his back on the eve of the US Masters, he reported no ill-effects after his morning round at Eagle Point.
The American carded a two-under 70, while Italian Molinari chipped in twice to lead on 66, one stroke ahead of four players including Swede Alex Noren.
"I felt good physically, no issues," Johnson told reporters. "I just need to get some more rounds in, get some more (repetitions), but I feel like the golf swing's in good shape.
"I hit the ball great. If I hit it like I did today over the next few days, I'll be right there on Sunday."
The only top-10 player in the field, he attracted a huge gallery in what almost counts as a home tournament, taking place not far from where he grew up, across the border in South Carolina.
Johnson was perhaps more satisfied with his performance than his score in his quest to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007-08 to notch four consecutive victories on the PGA Tour.
"Since I hadn't played in so long, I'm happy with the way I played," the 32-year-old added.
"I didn't score that great, didn't hole many putts. I felt like I hit good putts, just nothing was going in. All in all I'm very pleased with the day."
Many players approached the first round apprehensively on a course few had played before this week, but low scores were plentiful after the greens were watered overnight, allowing for attacking approach shots.
"It's a great track, not the longest, but especially in the breeze, you need to hit the ball in the right spot on the greens," said Molinari.
"Just a good, solid round. I hit a lot of good shots, gave myself a lot of chances. I missed some makeable ones but made a couple from off the green, so great day."
His first hole-out came at the par-three fifth, from 25 yards, while he also chipped in from 25 feet at the par-five 18th. Both efforts led to birdies. He had six other birdies and two bogeys.
He is seeking his first PGA Tour victory, after winning four times on the European Tour, including the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where he beat Englishman Lee Westwood by one stroke.
Noren played with the precision befitting a world No. 12, before saying he wants to play more on the PGA Tour, without abandoning Europe.
"I've got a little kid at home," said the 34-year-old. "They like it in Sweden and we'll see how it goes."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
WELLS FARGO CHAMPIONSHIP
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