After what sounded like an interesting reflection period for Rory McIlroy following his tough Sunday at Augusta last month, it was hard to know what to expect from the Northern Irishman on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Championship. Would there be noticeable, lingering effects, or would he quickly move past it? A first-round, three-under 68 at Quail Hollow, which has him three off the lead of John Peterson, and just one back of a group of five players tied for second, suggests it's the latter.
McIlroy, 29, began his round with a birdie at the par-5 10th hole and added two more at Nos. 12 and 15 before dropping his first shot of the day at the par-4 18th to turn in two-under 34. The four-time major winner got that shot back at the par-4 second, sticking his approach to nine feet and holing the putt. After giving another back at the par-3 sixth, McIlroy tallied one final birdie at the par-5 seventh, giving him a three-under mark on the par 5s for the round.
It was a far cry from his final-round 64 at Bay Hill earlier this season, but on a tough track, it got the job done and has McIlroy firmly in contention at a tournament where he is a two-time past champion. He needed just four fairways to card his 68, thanks in part to still hitting 14 greens and a solid day with a new putter that he put in the bag this week.
For now he's chasing Peterson, who produced one of the best finishes to a round on the PGA Tour this season. Sitting at two under through 15 holes, Peterson made back-to-back eagles at his 16th and 17th holes (No. 7 and 8 at Quail Hollow). After chipping in from a greenside bunker at the par-5 seventh, Peterson then knocked in his 103-yard approach shot for a 2 at the par-4 eighth. A par at the ninth finished off a six-under 65, putting him two shots clear of the field.
Five players are at four under, including England's Tyrrell Hatton, who also made an eagle 2 at the par-4 eighth . He's joined by Kyle Stanley, Johnson Wagner, Peter Malnati and Keith Mitchell.
Two major champions, Geoff Ogilvy and Keegan Bradley, are tied with McIlroy at three under, while Jason Day and Paul Casey are among the large group at two under. Tiger Woods carded an even-par 71.