Rory McIlroy’s inconsistency off the tee - with drives going left or right, and only occasionally finding the intended destination on the fairway - was evident, as the Northern Irishman’s return to competition at a familiar and happy hunting ground in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow provided further frustration in a season of unanswered questions.
McIlroy hit only fiveof 14 fairways in a wild walk through the parkland course outside Charlotte in North Carolina in ultimately signing for an opening round 72, which left him trailing first round leader Phil Mickelson, still producing his wizardry at 50 years of age, by eight shots.
In a display of shot-making reminiscent of old, Mickelson - showcasing his scrambling with a par save on the ninth, his finishing hole - signed for a seven-under-par 64 that put him into the clubhouse lead in his quest for a 45th career PGA Tour win.
For McIlroy, though, his return after a three week break following his missed cut at the Masters proved unfulfilling as he struggled with the driver, traditionally the strongest club in his bag, while a three-putt bogey on the 17th demonstrated that his travails ran right through the bag.
McIlroy turned in one-under after grinding his way through the front nine but couldn’t find a single birdie on the homeward run, with bogeys on the 11th and 17th only adding to his frustration.
Shane Lowry’s troubles came late on in his round, where back-to-back bogeys on the seventh (where he was in water with his approach) and eighth, the 16th and 17th holes of his round, undone much of his good work as he slipped from two-under back to level par. Séamus Power, who earned his place in the field through Monday Qualifying, was one-under through 14 holes.
Darren Clarke maintained his strong run of form on the Champions Tour with a six-under-par 66 in the opening round of the Regions Tradition tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, to claim a one stroke lead over Jerry Kelly and Stephen Ames in the first seniors major of the season.
“Majors are Majors, it doesn’t make any difference which tour they’re on. You want to play well. You ask Tiger Woods, you ask Rory McIlroy, you ask Dustin, you ask Mr. Nicklaus, you ask anybody, Majors are what they all want, and it’s the same out here. We all want them, too. There’s a little bit of added excitement,” said Clarke.
On the European Tour, Paul Dunne showed a welcome return to form with an opening round 65, six-under-par, in the Canary Islands Championship at Golf Adeje in Tenerife where Francesco Laporta’s 62 led the way.
Dunne averaged 322 yards in driving and required just 25 putts in an impressive round which yielded eight birdies and two bogeys and the Wicklow man moved into contention. In fact, the quintet of Irish players all managed to break par, with Niall Kearney (68), Cormac Sharvin (69), Tom McKibbin (69) and Jonathan Caldwell (70) all intent on surviving into the weekend.
On the Challenge Tour, 42-year-old Michael Hoey opened with a sizzling 63 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am tournament in South Africa to trail England’s Ryan Evans by a stroke after the first round. Hoey bounced back from successive missed cuts with birdie blitz. “I didn’t really expect that much, but that’s golf,” he said of his turnaround.
Collated Collated first round scores of the USPGA Wells Fargo Championship, North Carolina, USA (USA unless stated, Par 71):
64 Phil Mickelson
66 Keegan Bradley, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor)
67 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Luke List, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Kyle Stanley, Gary Woodland
68 Joel Dahmen, Brian Harman, Kramer Hickok, Sung Jae Im (Kor), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Hunter Mahan, Patrick Rodgers, Brian Stuard
69 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Rafael Campos (Pur), Corey Conners (Can), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Zach Johnson, Matt Jones (Aus), Patton Kizzire, Nate Lashley, Ben Martin, Ryan Moore, Pat Perez, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka (Aut), Kevin Streelman, Justin Thomas, Matt Wallace (Eng), J. J. Spaun
70 Joseph Bramlett, K. J. Choi (Kor), Cameron Davis (Aus), Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Talor Gooch, Tom Hoge, Mark Hubbard, Russell Knox (Sco), Jamie Lovemark, Troy Merritt, Sean O’Hair, Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Scott Piercy, Andrew Putnam, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Bubba Watson, Richy Werenski
71 Ryan Armour, Jonas Blixt (Swe), Scott Brown, Stewart Cink, Wyndham Clark, Jason Dufner, David Hearn (Can), Bo Hoag, Shane Lowry (Irl), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Ted Potter Jr., Chez Reavie, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Chase Seiffert, Robert Streb, Will Zalatoris, Xinjun Zhang (Chn), Seamus Power (Irl), Justin Suh
72 Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day (Aus), Luke Donald (Eng), Tyler Duncan, Harris English, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Hank Lebioda, Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Maverick McNealy, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Rob Oppenheim, Cameron Percy (Aus), J. T. Poston, Ian Poulter (Eng), Doc Redman, Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Xander Schauffele, Brendan Steele, Vaughn Taylor, Michael Thompson, Cameron Tringale, Bo Van Pelt, Harold Varner III, Jimmy Walker, Vincent Whaley, Aaron Wise
73 Akshay Bhatia, Tony Finau, Brandon Hagy, Beau Hossler, Michael Kim, Kelly Kraft, Sebastian Munoz (Col), Grayson Murray, Kevin Tway, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Johnson Wagner
74 Rafael Cabrera (Spa), Lucas Glover, Will Gordon, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Adam Hadwin (Can), Russell Henley, Harry Higgs, Mackenzie Hughes (Can), John Huh, Tyler McCumber, Seung-Yul Noh (Kor), Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Sam Ryder, Adam Schenk, Robby Shelton, Nick Taylor (Can), D. J. Trahan, Martin Trainer, Kristoffer Ventura (Nor), Sebastian Cappelen (Den), Tim Wilkinson (Nzl)
75 Lanto Griffin, Scott Harrington, Sung-Hoon Kang (Kor), Tom Lewis (Eng), Matthew NeSmith, Patrick Cover
76 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Ryan Brehm, Brice Garnett, Bill Haas, Jon Rahm (Spa), Roger Sloan (Can), Lucas Herbert (Aus)
77 Michael Gligic (Can), Max Homa, Adam Long, Denny McCarthy, D. A. Points, Keenan Huskey
78 Austin Cook, J. B. Holmes
79 Bronson Burgoon
80 Henrik Norlander (Swe)
81 Cory Schneider