For all the talk about the greens, Rory McIlroy’s most important club was his driver Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C.
McIlroy kept the ball in play at Quail Hollow and gave himself plenty of birdie chances on a cloudy, soft afternoon. He ran off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch around the turn and finished with an 8-foot birdie putt for a 5-under 67 to share the lead with six other players.
It was the first time this year McIlroy has been atop the leaderboard after any round, and the first time he broke par in the opening round.
“Now that I feel like I’m swinging it well, this is the sort of golf I expect to play,” McIlroy said.
Puyallup’s Ryan Moore, Nick Watney, Robert Garrigus and PGA Tour rookie Derek Ernst shot 67 in the morning. Daniel Summerhays and Nate Smith, a Monday qualifier, joined McIlroy by posting their 67s in the afternoon.
Phil Mickelson and Lucas Glover were in a large group at 68, with 19-year-old Jordan Spieth in another big group at 69.
The talk going into the Wells Fargo Championship was the shape of the greens. Two of the putting surfaces had to be entirely resodded a week ago — the 10th green had to be sodded twice — and the other greens were ragged.
But they weren’t as bad as players feared, and there wasn’t much public grumbling, mainly because Quail Hollow has a history of being in pristine shape and players seemed willing to accept this is an exceptionally bad year.
“It was fine,” Boo Weekley said after his 68. “First off, they were pretty smooth. It ain’t 100 percent, but I mean they’re good enough to play golf on.”
The bigger problem was cool, soft conditions that made Quail Hollow seem longer than usual. That’s why McIlroy was so pleased with missing only three fairways.
“They’re not the best greens that we’ve ever putted on, but they’re certainly not the worst, either,” McIlroy said. “The ball still rolls pretty well on them. As long as you give yourself chances for birdies, that’s all you can ask. … If you drive the ball well, you can really take advantage of that. And for the most part today, I did drive the ball well.”
Smith has the most unusual bag in the tournament.
Smith played a prank earlier in the week on James Hahn, who returned the favor. Hahn posted a message on Smith’s bag in the locker room asking players to sign it for charity. They do that all the time, though it’s not usually the bag a player uses in the tournament.
There were some 60 autographs on the bag.
“A little embarrassing when you’re playing as a Monday qualifier,” Smith said. “You don’t want people to be making fun of you. But I kind of had it coming from James, so it’s all in good fun. I’ll be getting him back. So don’t you worry about that.”
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, 17, shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va. Cristie Kerr, the only-two time winner in the tour’s eight previous visits to the River Course, shot a 66 that put her alone in second place. … Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the China Open in Tianjin, while 12-year-old Ye Wocheng opened with a 79 at Binhai Lake. At 12 years, 242 days, Ye became the youngest player in European Tour history, beating the record set by Guan Tianlang, who became the youngest to play in the Masters at 14. … Tacoma’s Michael Putnam shot a 4-under 67 and is in a three-way tie for fourth, one shot out of the lead at the Web.com-Stadion Classic in Athens, Ga.