Golf

Rory McIlroy digs deep at Wells Fargo in Quail Hollow

 Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot down the 14th hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow yesterday
Picture by AP
Phil Casey

DEFENDING champion Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start to keep his hopes alive of a third victory in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte yesterday.

McIlroy won his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow in 2010 and has recorded five top-10 finishes in six appearances in the event, including carding a course record 61 in the third round last year on his way to a seven-shot win.

But the four-time Major winner, who is the only member of the world’s top five yet to win in 2016, had to settle for an opening 73 to lie  eight shots off the lead, held by American Steve Wheatcroft, who was seven-under with two holes to play last night.

India’s Anirban Lahiri held the early clubhouse lead on six-under after a flawless 66, two better than double Major winner Retief Goosen, with English duo of Paul Casey and Ian Poulter both on two-under.

Meanwhile, McIlroy, starting on the back nine, dropped shots at the 12th and 13th before carding a double-bogey on the 18th, where he missed the green with his approach and three-putted from 13 feet following a clumsy chip.

A birdie from 20 feet on the second was followed by another dropped shot on the next, but McIlroy then two-putted the fifth for a birdie and picked up another shot from just four feet on the sixth.

The 27-year-old had come close to holing his tee shot on the par three despite a disturbance among the spectators, with McIlroy and playing partner Rickie Fowler appearing to point out the offender to security staff.

Another two-putt birdie on the par-five seventh made it three in-a-row and although McIlroy narrowly missed from 15 feet on the ninth to get back to level-par, he at least had not played himself out of contention.

McIlroy had not played competitively since finishing 10th at the Masters at the start of April and admitted on Wednesday he was attempting to fix some “bad habits” which had crept into his game before Augusta.

“I knew I was going to have to sort of play my way into the next couple of weeks,” McIlroy said after his round.

“I started off pretty well today but then there was just some shots where I was thinking so much about the swing rather than actually the shot that I was trying to hit and that was really the problem for the front nine.

“I would much rather be in red numbers [under par] but I’m much happier where I am now than I was three hours ago. I just need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good second round, something in the 60s, get myself back into the tournament going into the weekend.”

McIlroy’s round of 73 was one better than three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington, who had an eagle, a birdie and five bogeys on his way to a 74.
Shane Lowry was one-over for his first round after 13 holes late last night.

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