World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was one of seven players sharing the lead on five-under 67 on Thursday after the first round of the US PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.
The weather-damaged greens that raised concerns ahead of the tournament did not prevent more than 50 players from breaking par as cool, overcast weather made for good scoring conditions despite some patchy putting surfaces.
“They’re not the best greens that we’ve ever putted on, but they’re certainly not the worst, either,” said Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, who claimed his breakthrough victory on the US PGA Tour at this event in 2010 and finished runner-up to Rickie Fowler in a playoff last year.
“The ball still rolls pretty well on them,” he said.
McIlroy powered up the leaderboard with four birdies in a row starting at the par-five fifth, where he rolled in a five-footer.
He sandwiched birdies at 10 and 11 between bogeys at the ninth and 12th, but joined the group sharing the clubhouse lead with a birdie at 18.
McIlroy was joined on 67 by Ryan Moore, Robert Garrigus, Nick Watney, Nate Smith, Derek Ernst and Daniel Summerhays.
Smith qualified on Monday to make his return to a PGA Tour event for the first time since 2011, when he played in 16 events.
In five starts on the Web.com tour this year his best finish is a tie for 29th, but he briefly gained sole possession of the lead with a birdie at 16 — jumping ahead of six players in the clubhouse on 67.
However, he gave the stroke back at the 17th to settle for a share of the lead.
Phil Mickelson, who finished second behind McIlroy in 2010, was among six players tied on 68, along with 2011 Quail Hollow winner Lucas Glover, Boo Weekley, Zach Johnson, Kevin Streelman and Jason Kokrak.
Australians Steven Bowditch and Rod Pampling, and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson were among nine players on 69.
Glover said there were some unexpected outcomes on the greens, but nothing too damaging.
“I had some bounce in and I had some bounce out, but it evens out eventually,” Glover said.
“All you can do on any green is try and hit it where you’re looking,” Watney said. “The greens may be a little bouncy, but most of the time if you hit a good putt it’s going to go in.”
McIlroy, playing for the first time since tying for 25th in the Masters, was due to tee off early yesterday, when the course was likely to be receptive.
He said work with coach Michael Bannon had him feeling “a lot more comfortable” with his swing.
“I got into a couple of bad habits with my swing, and it just took me a little bit of time to get out of them,” he said. “But now that I feel like I’m swinging it well... this is the sort of golf I expect to play.”