Washington - Francesco Molinari birdied his final hole to
grab the early lead at the Wells Fargo Championship as world number one Dustin
Johnson had a solid round in his return from a back injury.
Italy's Molinari chipped in from the rough on No 18 for his
eighth birdie of the day to open with a six-under 66 at the Eagle Point Golf
Club in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Sweden's Alex Noren, and Americans JB Holmes, Grayson Murray
and Brian Campbell were tied for second after shooting 67s.
Ken Duke, Ben Martin and Northern Ireland's Seamus Power
fired four-under 68s and are two strokes back of Molinari.
The 34-year-old Molinari is seeking his first victory on the
US PGA Tour. This is his 99th start since turning pro in 2004.
He has won four times on the European Tour including the
Italian Open in 2006 and 2016. He also captured the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions
event in 2010 by beating Lee Westwood by one stroke.
Johnson shot a two-under 70 Thursday in a round that
included four birdies, 12 pars and two bogeys.
His best stretch was back-to-back birdies on his front nine
which comprised the par-three 15th and the par-four 16th holes.
On number 15, his 200-yard tee shot rolled down a slope
towards the hole leaving him with a nine-foot putt for birdie.
This is Johnson's first tournament since withdrawing from
the Masters after injuring his back on the eve of the first major of the
He slipped and fell down a flight of stairs at a rental
house in Augusta on the night before the tournament.
The 32-year-old American, who defends his first major title
at next month's US Open, is aiming to stretch a winning streak that has seen
him capture his past three PGA starts.
"I thought I drove it nicely," Johnson said.
"Hit a lot of good iron shots. I'm happy with the way I played, for sure.
"As far as physically, no issues," he added.
"That's a good thing. I just need to get some rounds in, get some more
reps, but I feel like the golf swing's in good shape.
"If I hit it like I did today the next few days, then
I'll be right there on Sunday."
Leading scores on Thursday after the first round of the PGA Tour's
Wells Fargo Championship at the Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington,
North Carolina (USA unless noted):
66 - Francesco Molinari (ITA)
67 - Alex Noren (SWE), J.B. Holmes, Grayson Murray, Brian Campbell
68 - Ben Martin, Ken Duke, Seamus Power (NIR)
69 - Shawn Stefani, Noh Seung-Yul (KOR), Chris Kirk, Jon Rahm (ESP), Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Jonathan Randolph