We were told Quail Hollow, which hosted the 2017 PGA Championship, would be an easier track this time around after its major test last August. It surely didn't feel like that to a field that slogged its way to a 2-over 73 average in Round 1 on Thursday at the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship.
After 18 holes, the lead is held by John Peterson at 6 under. He finished eagle-eagle-par, and his 65 was two strokes better than the rest of the field. He's followed by a group at 4 under that includes Peter Malnati, Tyrrell Hatton, Johnson Wagner, Kyle Stanley and Keith Mitchell. But probably the best player of this course in the history of the event, Rory McIlroy, is lurking at 3 under.
McIlroy had an intriguing morning on Thursday. He started off smoking with three birdies in his first six holes, but cooled late and coasted to a 3-under 68. Much like the first three rounds at the Masters, where he was in the final Sunday pairing with Patrick Reed and eventually lost, McIlroy's round was largely held together with his putter.
McIlroy finished in the top 25 in strokes gained putting and paired that with a top 20 in strokes gained on approach shots. What that means is that his strokes gained off the tee number was lacking, and as we all know, that's the surest part of McIlroy's game and will certainly come around over the next few days.
"I love this place. I play well," he told reporters after the strong start. "I feel like I don't have to play that good and I can still get it around. It's a very comfortable golf course for me."
There are currently 24 golfers at or within three of the lead. If I'm power ranking their chances -- Vegas says McIlroy is the 7-2 favorite, by the way -- they look a little bit like this.
Jason Day (-2): The Australian had a clean card on the day with three birdies up until the final hole (the 9th), where he made a bogey. One of the top putters on the PGA Tour this season, Day rolled it well again on Thursday and struggled with his approach shots (outside the top 80 in Round 1). He was fantastic here in a top 10 finish at the 2017 PGA Championship and probably would have won if not for that abominable quadruple bogey on the 18th. Avoid those, and he'll be in the mix until the end this week.
Paul Casey (-2): The Englishman has become borderline automatic when it comes to contending at events like this one. He didn't do anything exceptionally well on Thursday, but he was solid throughout. Casey is looking for his fourth top 10 in 11 events played so far this season.
Tony Finau (-2): It was a wild day for the big-hitting Finau. He made five birdies, an eagle and two double bogeys, and finished outside the top 75 in strokes gained off the tee (which is highly unusual for him). If he keeps the putter going, he could tear this place down on the weekend.
Jason Dufner (-3): Dufner hit the shot of the day to two feet on the wicked par-4 18th. He also actually putted quite well for him (inside the top 40). Ball-strikers usually win this tournament, and Dufner certainly qualifies. I could get into a little Dufner-Finau-McIlroy shootout late on Sunday.
You can find more notes and thoughts on Round 1 below. If you are unable to view the live updates below,.
Thanks for stopping by.