McIlroy in the mix again at Quail Hollow | PostIndependent.com

McIlroy in the mix again at Quail Hollow

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts to his approach shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
AP | FR103426 AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tyrrell Hatton did much better at Quail Hollow as a PGA Tour event than he did on the course that hosted the PGA Championship last summer.

Hatton and Peter Malnati each had a 4-under 67 and shared the early lead Thursday in the opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship. Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner of this event, was among those one shot behind.

Even though a 67 was the low score after the opening round of the PGA Championship, McIlroy said it was clear the course is easier now. The greens aren’t running as fast and missing the fairway was not as punishing.

The leaderboard from the early starters looked nothing like that at the PGA Championship, either. Four of the top six players weren’t even in the field last August.

Hatton was there. He shot rounds of 77-72 to miss the cut. On Thursday, he holed out from just over 100 yards in the fairway for eagle on No. 8, and then finished with birdies on the final two holes — two of the toughest at Quail Hollow — for a 67.

“I got into trouble a few times and I think that was key to my score today. I grinded really well,” Hatton said.

McIlroy also was at the PGA Championship, even if it didn’t feel like the same Quail Hollow. He didn’t break par until the final round (68) as he coped with back spasms toward the end of a tough year.

He opened with three birdies in six holes, starting on the back nine, and he was mainly slowed by a poor chip that led to him missing an 8-foot par putt on the par-3 sixth hole. Even so, he birdied the three par 5s, and while he was on the wrong side of the ropes a few times, he had few complaints, especially after the way he was hitting the ball during his pro-am. A quick stop at the practice range solved that, and McIlroy was on his way.

“Hit the ball much better today, drove it much better and the course is a little easier than it was last August in the PGA,” McIlroy said. “Even if you don’t hit it quite so well, you can still get away with it most times.”

Tiger Woods, back at Quail Hollow for the first time in six years, played in the afternoon. He was 1 under at the turn. Also playing late was PGA champion Justin Thomas, with a chance to reach No. 1 in the world.

Malnati didn’t qualify for the PGA Championship last year. Neither did Aaron Wise, Michael Thompson and Tom Lovelady, who joined McIlroy at 68.

Jason Day and Paul Casey were among those in the group at 68.

Phil Mickelson was tied with McIlroy in the early going until he three-putted for double bogey on the par-3 fourth (his 13th hole of the round) and took bogey on one of the better scoring holes at the reachable par-4 eighth with a tee shot closer to the ninth green.