Francesco Molinari did not start off his opening round quite the way he hoped at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday. The Italian bogeyed the 161-yard par-3 second hole at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C. But then he went on to birdie six of his next eight holes to get to five under, eventually finishing with a six-under 66 to grab a one-shot lead.
Molinari's round was highlighted by beautiful a chip-in birdie on the 18th hole from just off the green. It’s only his second appearance at the Wells Fargo, the first coming last year when he finished in a tie for 17th. The 34-year-old, who has four wins on the European Tour, is still in search of his first on the PGA Tour.
Sweden's Alex Noren shot a five-under 67 during a round that featured six birdies and just one bogey, putting him one stroke behind Molinari. Noren had a huge season on the European Tour in 2016 that included four victories, but he too is looking for his first PGA Tour win.
Joining him at five under was four-time PGA Tour champion J.B. Holmes, who finished his round with three straight birdies. Holmes, 35, is hoping to regain his 2016 season form, a season that saw him finish in the top-10 six times.
Also at five under are PGA Tour rookies Grayson Murray and Brian Campbell.
Perhaps the most interesting story of the day was the return of Dustin Johnson after his withdrawal from the Masters last month. Johnson got it going early with three birdies on his first seven holes, quickly shaking off any rust. He finished up at two-under, four shots off the pace.