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A rejuvenated Rory McIlroy shoots first-round 68 at Wells Fargo Championship

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A rejuvenated Rory McIlroy shoots first-round 68 at Wells Fargo Championship

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    If there was a theme in Rory McIlroy’s opening round 3-under 68 at the Wells Fargo Championship, it’d be difficult to say it was anything other than comfort.

    McIlroy certainly feels at home at Quail Hollow Club, the site of his three Wells Fargo Championship wins (2010, 2015 and 2021) – most of any event on TOUR. He’s only finished outside the top 20 once in 11 appearances. That he was paired with longtime friends Jason Day and Matt Fitzpatrick only added to the homey feel. Add in the fact that Thursday was McIlroy’s 34th birthday and it was hard to find a golfer that looked more at ease than McIlroy. Spectators sang to him before his opening tee shot, and the 21-time PGA TOUR winner heard a smattering of birthday wishes as he walked down every fairway.

    Rory McIlroy's bunker play leads to birdie at Wells Fargo

    “I feel relaxed here,” he said. “It's just a level of comfort at this golf course and at this club that I probably don't have any other venue on TOUR.”

    It was a noticeable shift from the last time he teed it up, a missed cut at the Masters that McIlroy admitted earlier this week was “incredibly disappointing.” After three weeks off, he says he’s “rejuvenated.”

    It looked that way early on his round. In typical McIlroy fashion, he took advantage of his first par 5, the 10th hole, getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker to birdie his first hole of the day. A steady stream of pars was interrupted by another birdie on the drivable par-4 14th. Even when he did find trouble, it rarely caused him to fret.

    Rory McIlroy nearly holes 61-foot bunker shot at Wells Fargo

    “I’ve played here so many times I know where to miss it,” he said. “I missed a few greens but I didn’t feel like I hit the ball that badly.”

    In a greenside bunker after his second shot on the par-5 15th, McIlroy chunked his first attempt before cozying his second attempt to 15 inches to save par. He got up-and-down from off the green for par on 16, 17 and again on Nos. 2 and 3 as he made the turn to his second nine, the front nine.

    The putter was a big part of it, too. McIlroy made the switch back to his TaylorMade mallet putter this week after using a Scotty Cameron blade putter in his previous two events (the 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the Masters). The Spider Hydro Blast mallet is the same style putter he’s used since 2019. He gained strokes on the field and made every putt inside six feet in the first round.

    Rory McIlroy switches putters before Wells Fargo

    “Sometimes you need to miss something for a little bit and you get it back in your hand and it feels good,” said McIlroy, who was 6-of-7 in scrambling.

    The only mistake McIlroy couldn’t save came after his drive wound up out of bounds on the par-5 7th. He pumped his provisional 352 yards down the middle of the fairway, hit his 170-yard approach to 24 feet and narrowly missed a putt that would’ve saved his par.

    He got the shot back on his last hole of the day, the par-4 ninth, sinking an 11-foot birdie putt to finish the 3-under, two shots back of the leaders (-5) after the morning wave.

    Rory McIlroy's 155-yard approach to 11-feet leads to birdie at Wells Fargo

    “It was just really nice to be out there again,” McIlroy said. “… Nice to feel like I played well. I didn't want to spend my birthday afternoon grinding on the range.”

    If the rest of the week goes according to plan, he’ll have plenty of time to grind.

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