MIAMI • Rory McIlroy's first post-Masters appearance has been dominated by his remarks that other Majors pale in comparison to "the biggest golf tournament in the world".
He did not attempt to backtrack on his comments that he did not "care about the US Open or the Open Championship" after a three-under 68 on Thursday which kick-started his quest for a third Wells Fargo Championship.
"I am a very proud winner of both those tournaments... (but) I've always felt there is just a different feeling there (at Augusta)," said the Northern Irishman, who finished joint-fifth at Augusta last month and failed in his attempt to complete a career Grand Slam.
"There is a lot of hype around it. It is the most anticipated of the year... over the last five or 10 years, ever since I started to play Augusta, it feels like they (Masters organisers) have taken it to another level."
He was joint-seventh, three off the lead held by John Peterson, who made consecutive eagles for a 65. The American holed a 55-foot bunker shot at the par-five seventh (his 16th hole), and went even better by holing a wedge shot from 107 yards at the par-four eighth.
Five were tied for second on 67.
"I love this place," said McIlroy, who turned 29 yesterday, after carding five birdies and two bogeys at Quail Hollow - a course where he claimed his first PGA Tour win. "I feel like I don't have to play that well and I can still get it around."
Justin Thomas, who can overtake Dustin Johnson as world No. 1 if he finishes 12th or better, made a mediocre return to the venue where he captured his first Major in last year's PGA Championship.
He fired a two-over 73 to share 79th place, while Masters champion Patrick Reed fared slightly better with a 71.
Tiger Woods, who like McIlroy was also teeing it up for the first time since the Masters, carded a 71 that left him tied for 34th. The former world No. 1 used a new set of irons but it was the flat stick that caused his problems as he missed two putts from inside five feet.
"I struggled with my speed all day," Woods said. "It's weird. The greens are slow. They're springy and firm. That's not a combination you would expect. I struggled making the adjustments today."
The American added he was now in "playing shape" and the goal was "just trying to get a little better".
"Whether it's the simple act of walking and playing, recovery from day-to-day, playing week-to-week. I feel like I've played my way back into the rhythm of it," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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