Miami - Rory McIlroy is off to a solid start in his quest
for a third victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, firing an opening round
three-under 68 to sit just three strokes off the lead.
The 28-year-old Northern Ireland star showed little signs of
rust in his first start since a disappointing tie for fifth at the Masters.
McIlroy, a winner at Quail Hollow in 2010 and 2015, carded
five birdies and two bogeys, to remain three shots behind leader American John
Peterson, who posted a six-under 65.
"I love this place," said McIlroy, who turns 29 on
Friday. "I feel like I don't have to play that well and I can still get it
Five other players were tied for second on four-under -
Peter Malnati, England's Tyrrell Hatton, Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell and
Tiger Woods, also teeing it up for the first time since the
Masters, carded an even-par 71 that left him tied for 34th.
McIlroy was alongside Keegan Bradley, Australian Geoff
Ogilvy and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, all part of a group of 10 sharing
seventh place at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Seven players, including former world number one Jason Day
and England's Paul Casey, were a shot back after carding two-under-par 69s.
McIlroy, teeing off on the back nine, made a perfect start
on his first hole, the 592-yard par-five 10th, chipping his third shot to two
feet and tapping in for birdie.
A further birdie followed two holes later, McIlroy rolling
in a 12-foot birdie putt after reaching the green in two.
Another superb short iron left him with a simple putt for
birdie on the 15th, but a bogey at the turn - finding the water hazard down
the left hand side of the 18th fairway, dropped him back to two under.
He regained that dropped shot on the second, hitting a
majestic iron to 10 feet before stroking home the birdie.
A bogey on the sixth threatened to undo his good work before
another sublime chip from the edge of the green gave him another birdie on the
Peterson's round of two eagles, three pars and a bogey
included rare back-to-back hole outs.
"Not often do you go almost 30 minutes without having
to putt," said Peterson.
Woods was tied with Ernie Els, Stewart Cink and Masters
champion Patrick Reed after a mixed round that saw him drain some long putts
but also miss a few easy ones.
Woods said on a few of the holes he had a lot trouble
reading the putts.
"The greens are slow. They're springy and their firm.
That's not a combo you would expect," he said. "I've just got to make
Still in the early stages of his return from debilitating
back trouble, Woods said the more he plays, the better he feels.
"I'm just trying to get better. I've felt like I've
played my way into playing shape now," he said. "Whether it's the
simple act of walking and playing, recovery from day-to-day, playing
week-to-week. I feel like I've played my way back into the rhythm of it."
Leading first-round scores on Thursday in the PGA Tour's Wells Fargo Championship (USA unless stated):
65 - John Peterson
67 - Peter Malnati, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG), Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell, Kyle Stanley
68 - Aaron Wise, Rory McIlroy (NIR), Michael Thompson, Tom Lovelady, Keegan Bradley, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS), Ollie Schniederjans, Jason Dufner, Emiliano Grillo (ARG), Beau Hossler
69 - Paul Casey (ENG), Jason Day (AUS), Tony Finau, Ross Fisher (ENG), Bud Cauley, T.J. Vogel, Sam Burns