Rory McIlroy shoots worst Quail Hollow opening round in five years
Rory McIlroy shot his worst Quail Hollow opening round in five seasons at the Wells Fargo Championship yesterday, but the defending champion served notice that he is only warming up at one of his favourite venues.
McIlroy never looked completely comfortable as he tuned into competitive golf again in his first tournament since the Masters.
Had he been asked beforehand if he would settle for a one-over par 73, McIlroy would not have been impressed with the question.
As events transpired, the manner of that 73 left him in slightly better mood than might have been expected, despite ending the day eight shots behind joint leaders Steve Wheatcroft and Andrew Loupe who each scored 65 to set the pace at seven-under par.
By the end of McIlroy's front nine, he had slumped to four-over, but the mood lifted as he shot four birdies on his back nine.
That run, which included a hat-trick of birdies on holes five through seven, enabled McIlroy to stem his rate of the slippage down the leaderboard.
Speaking afterwards, McIlroy summed up his day.
"I knew I was going to have to sort of play my way into the next couple of weeks," he said. "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 didn't feel like I did that much wrong, but you don't have to on this golf course for it to punish you.
"But I played the front nine a bit better, and if I can play a bit more like that over the next three days, I can definitely play myself back into the tournament."
Starting at the 10th tee, the world No 3 attracted huge galleries who wanted to see how he would deal with the challenge set by Quail Hollow.
This course will always hold happy memories for McIlroy as he won there for the first time on the PGA Tour in 2010. He missed the cut in 2011, the year he joined the hallowed ranks of Major champions by winning the US Open at Congressional.
Since then, McIlroy had never started at Quail Hollow with a score higher than 70 until yesterday.
McIlroy had difficulties on his front nine, with bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes, his third and fourth, and a double-bogey six at the 18th to turn in 40, four-over par.
He took a par on the first, his 10th hole, and then nailed his first birdie of the day on the 200-yard par-three 11th, where he holed out from 20 feet for two.
On the next hole he drove into trees and ended up with a bogey five, before lifting the siege with three birdies in a row, leaving him at one-over with two holes to play.
McIlroy got down in two from 50 feet to save par on the eighth, and shaved the cup with a birdie attempt on the ninth hole.
Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington left themselves with work to do after they both shot 74.
Harrington's highlight of the day was an eagle three on the par-five 15th hole, measuring 566 yards, when he pitched in from almost 40 yards off the green.
Otherwise it was a moderate display, with five bogeys and one birdie on the card as he signed for 74, two-over par.
Kevin Phelan, the Mount Juliet touring professional, was best of the Irish in the Tropheé Hassan 11 in Morocco, scoring 70, two-under par.
That placed him tied-ninth, just two shots behind joint leaders Jason Scrivener, Francesco Laporta and Thomas Linard.
Gary Hurley, Paul Dunne and Cormac Sharvin, scored 71, 72 and 73 respectively.
Michael Hoey was on 77, and Rory McNamara finished with an 80.
On the Challenge Tour, Irish competitors got their 18 holes finished in the first round of the weather-disrupted Turkish Airlines Challenge at Belek GC (Par 72).
John Hahn (USA) led by three shots from his nearest challengers on nine under after posting a 63.
The Irish scores were: Ruaidhri McGee 69; Brian Casey 71; Gareth Shaw 72; Gavin Moynihan 72; David Carey 74
Trophee Hassan 11
Live, Sky Sports 4, 11.30am/3.30pm
Wells Fargo Championship
Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0pm