Rory McIlroy’s good memories help him into Wells Fargo lead
Brilliant back nine of 31 strokes gets two-time champion off to perfect start
Rory McIlroy plays his second shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy must feel like a walking ATM when striding the fairways of Quail Hollow, where the Northern Irishman – who celebrates his 30th birthday in the middle of this latest edition of the Wells Fargo Championship – has been the dominant player of the past decade.
Yet again, McIlroy – who has banked in excess of $3million in prizemoney on previous visits which included wins in 2010 and 2015 – was to the fore after a first round, played in beautiful sunshine, which saw him overcome some early wayward driving to move to the top of the first-round leaderboard with a stunning back nine of just 31 strokes in signing for a five-under-par 66.
Playing for the first time since a disappointing performance at last month’s US Masters, where he was a distant tied-21st, McIlroy – who incorporated some subtle tweaks to his swing over the past fortnight – grew into the round and, by the time he reached the Green Mile, that notorious finishing stretch of holes from the 16th to the 18th, he was in full flow.
McIlroy conjured up a birdie on the second despite a pulled drive left into trees where his ball came to rest on pine straws. He punched out to 20 feet and rolled in the putt but then ran up a bogey six on the Par-5 seventh where his tee shot found water.
It was on the back nine, however, that McIlroy finally clicked into gear.
Again, McIlroy had to use his creativity from unlikely places: on the Par-5 10th, his drive was pushed and again settled in pine straws but he played a fairway wood approach to the front of the green and got up and down for birdie; then, on the 11th, seemingly blocked out by trees after another pushed drive, he play a cut shot through a gap for the ball to finish 18 inches from the flag. He tapped in for consecutive birdies.
McIlroy’s escapology was again evident on the 11th, where he was again blocked by trees but produced a remarkable approach to five feet only to miss the birdie putt. But he moved to three under on his round when finding a greenside bunker on the drivable Par-4 14th and splashing out to six feet to set up the birdie. McIlroy’s driving was erratic to that point, finding only four fairways in those opening 14 holes.
On the Par-5 15th, McIlroy – with 277 yards to the flag after a perfect drive – hit a fairway wood approach which ran through the back of the green. He pitched to eight feet and rolled in the putt to join the leaders on four under and claimed the outright lead in completing a hat-trick of birdies with a superb birdie on the 16th, crushing a drive with a 310 yards carry over the bunker and hitting an approach to eight feet for birdie.
McIlroy narrowly missed a birdie chance on the 18th, but signed for a 66 that left him in a share of the first-round lead with American Joel Dahmen and a one-stroke lead over a group which included former Masters champion Patrick Reed, without a top-10 on tour so far this season.
Séamus Power continued his recent run of good form with 69, his homeward run producing back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th and then eagling the Par-5 15th to get to four under. However, his drive on the 18th found a fairway bunker and he was too ambitious with his recovery, which found the creek that meanders up the left.
Pádraig Harrington’s struggles since returning from his wrist injury continued, as the Dubliner opened with a 75 marred by two double-bogeys – on the 12th, where he was in trouble in the rough and then three-putted when finally reaching the green, and 18th – and faces an uphill battle to survive the cut.
Collated first round scores in the USPGA Tour Wells Fargo Championship, Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States of America (USA unless stated, Irish in bold, par 71):
66 Joel Dahmen (USA), Rory McIlroy (NIrl)
67 Adam Schenk (USA), Martin Laird (Sco), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Nick Taylor (Can), Patrick Reed (USA)
68 Jason Day (Aus), Vaughn Taylor (USA), Jason Dufner (USA), John Senden (Aus), Brian Harman (USA), Jim Knous (USA), Brendon Todd (USA), Keith Mitchell (USA), Sebastian Munoz (Col)
69 Pat Perez (USA), Kyle Stanley (USA), Beau Hossler (USA), Aaron Wise (USA), Webb Simpson (USA), Séamus Power (Irl), Max Homa (USA), Bill Haas (USA), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Paul Casey (Eng)
70 Nick Watney (USA), Jason Kokrak (USA), Matt Jones (Aus), Chez Reavie (USA), Richy Werenski (USA), Doc Redman (USA), Justin Rose (Eng), Brice Garnett (USA), Wes Roach (USA), Zach Johnson (USA), Roberto Diaz (Mex), Sung Kang (Kor), Lucas Glover (USA), Jonas Blixt (Swe), Fabian Gomez (Arg), Tom Hoge (USA), Keegan Bradley (USA), J.J. Henry (USA), Adam Long (USA), Sungjae Im (Kor)
71 Benjamin Silverman (Can), Nate Lashley (USA), Cody Gribble (USA), Joey Garber (USA), Hank Lebioda (USA), Russell Henley (USA), Roberto Castro (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Curtis Luck (Aus), Rickie Fowler (USA), Dominic Bozzelli (USA), Chesson Hadley (USA), Chase Wright (USA), Harris English (USA), Kevin Streelman (USA), Phil Mickelson (USA), Sang-moon Bae (Kor), Ryan Blaum (USA), Tyler Duncan (USA), Cameron Tringale (USA), 72 Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Scott Brown (USA), Kramer Hickok (USA), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Zack Sucher (USA), Brandon Hagy (USA), Kyoung-hoon Lee (Kor), Cameron Champ (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Brendan Steele (USA), Trey Mullinax (USA), Ben Crane (USA), Michael Thompson (USA), Denny McCarthy (USA), Ryan Armour (USA), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)
73 Bud Cauley (USA), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Hudson Swafford (USA), Colt Knost (USA), Anders Albertson (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can), Kelly Kraft (USA), Charles Howell III (USA), Alex Prugh (USA), Daniel Berger (USA), Julian Etulain (Arg), Peter Uihlein (USA), Martin Trainer (USA), Chris Stroud (USA), Adam Svensson (Can), Whee Kim (Kor), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Jim Herman (USA), Brandon Harkins (USA)
74 Peter Malnati (USA), JT Poston (USA), Sepp Straka (Aut), Roger Sloan (Can), David Hearn (Can), Brady Schnell (USA), Wyndham Clark (USA), Ted Potter, Jr. (USA), Ollie Schniederjans (USA), Rod Pampling (Aus), Ernie Els (Rsa), Chris Thompson (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
75 Steve Scott (USA), Luke List (USA), Daniel Willett (Eng), John Chin (USA), Jose de Jesus Rodriguez (Mex), Matt Every (USA), Sam Saunders (USA), Cameron Davis (Aus), Nicholas Lindheim (USA), Danny Lee (Nzl), Will MacKenzie (USA), Tom Lovelady (USA), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Chip McDaniel (USA), Pádraig Harrington (Irl)
76 Shawn Stefani (USA), Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Scott Stallings (USA), Kyle Jones (USA), Robert Streb (USA), Stephan Jaeger (Ger), Chad Collins (USA), Mathew Goggin (Aus), Matthew Short (USA), Seth Reeves (USA)
77 Nathan Stamey (USA), Harold Varner III (USA), Freddie Jacobson (Swe), (a) Alvaro Ortiz (Mex), Sam Burns (USA), Josh Teater (USA)
78 Scott Langley (USA), Derek Fathauer (USA), Broc Everett (USA), Jonathan Byrd (USA)
79 Billy Hurley III (USA), Martin Piller (USA), Tyrone Van Aswegen (Rsa), Johnson Wagner (USA), Anirban Lahiri (Ind)