McIlroy finds joy on familiar course

Rory McIlroy has won the Wells Fargo Championship twice and grabbed a share of the first-round lead with Joel Dahmen with a five-under 66 on Thursday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Rory McIlroy has won the Wells Fargo Championship twice and grabbed a share of the first-round lead with Joel Dahmen with a five-under 66 on Thursday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Rory McIlroy is back in his comfort zone at the Wells Fargo Championship, on a course where he feels he is always likely to do well after he fired a five-under 66 to share the first-round lead with Joel Dahmen.

His first PGA Tour victory came at the Quail Hollow golf course in 2010, and he is the only two-time winner of the event, where he also has six top-10 finishes.

After shooting even-par on the front nine, he surged up the leaderboard on the back nine in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the help of five birdies over a seven-hole stretch on Thursday.

"The golf course went through different iterations since we started coming here but, every time they tweak something here or there, it's still sort of the same place and it really fits my eye," he said.

"I think it's the purest golf course we play all year in terms of preparation and how manicured it is.

"It just has a really nice feel. I've always felt comfortable here. I've obviously got good memories."

Two days before his 30th birthday, McIlroy, one of the Tour's best drivers, did not fire on all cylinders, hitting just six of 14 fairways.

But the Northern Irishman managed to do what he says has elevated his performances this year - score well without being at the top of his game.

He made it up with his approach play as he turned it around with 66.67 per cent greens in regulation, and above-average putting (2.033 strokes gained).

"I didn't play my best today, but I managed my game well, scrambled well (and) it added up to a good score at the end of the day," he said.

The former world No. 1 finished tied for 21st at the Masters this year after reaching the top 10 in seven straight PGA tournaments.

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    Rory McIlroy's drive at 18th, the longest on Thursday by 21 yards.

During that stretch, he captured his first Players Championship crown.

This is the fifth time he has led at the end of a round at Quail Hollow, which moves him past Tiger Woods for the most all-time. But McIlroy did not hold the first-round lead in either of his victories - five behind in 2015 and seven adrift in 2010.

Five players are just one shot off the pace, including 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed.

Australia's Jason Day, who is seeking to retain a title on the PGA Tour for the first time, is on a round of 68 that included five birdies.

Reed believes that it was crucial to play "boring golf" in order to be at the top of the leaderboard.

"I was able to put the ball from point A to point B fairly well and make some putts," said the American, whose bogey-free 67 was his lowest round since a third-round 64 at the World Golf Championship-Mexico in March.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'McIlroy finds joy on familiar course'. Print Edition | Subscribe