2019 Wells Fargo Championship: Rory McIlroy grabs share of lead after Round 1 at Quail Hollow
The best player on the PGA Tour was the best at Quail on Thursday
The first round of the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow on Thursday started tepidly but closed in a rush as the No. 4 player in the world burned bright on the back nine in the afternoon. Rory McIlroy shot a round-of-the-day 66 to share the lead by one over a big group as he looks for his second win of the season and third at this tournament.
Let's take a deep dive into his round and everything else that took place over the first 18 holes in Charlotte.
First place -- Rory McIlroy, Joel Dahmen (-5): New year, same story for McIlroy at Quail Hollow. He has as many wins here (2) as he does finishes outside the top 10, and he owns the course record with a filthy 61 back in 2015 when he went on to win by a touchdown. His six strokes gained on the field, while absurd, is hardly an anomaly for him (either this season or in his career at Quail). The only shocking part of it was how quickly it all happened.
McIlroy made the turn at even par after a pedestrian front nine in which he made his only bogey on a par 5 at this course in the last six years (seriously). Then it got fun. He birdied Nos. 10 and 11 on 6 feet of putts combined, nearly birdied No. 12 on a miracle shot (see below), parred the tough par-3 13th and then went on a tear with three in a row on Nos. 14-16. A nice up and down for par at the long par-3 17th led to a 366-yard (not a typo!) drive on the 18th. He missed a 14-footer for birdie that would have given him a 65.
Still, it was more than enough to win the day and set himself up for a 16th PGA Tour victory on the same weekend as his 30th birthday. McIlroy did what McIlroy does on this course -- he was first in approach shots and second from tee to green -- and an above average putting round led to the share of the lead.
Last place -- J.B Holmes (+9): It was not a great day for Holmes, the only player in the field who didn't crack 80. Even worse, he's a former champion here. Most of the damage for Holmes was done on the greens as he lost nearly five strokes, made just 50 feet of putts and took 35 strokes with that club. I expect him to bounce back tomorrow, but it will be a long road to a made cut for him.
Other contenders -- Martin Laird, Nick Taylor, Dylan Frittelli, Patrick Reed, Adam Schenk (-4): The obvious headliner here is Reed, who has not been playing the greatest golf of late. He played a bogey-free round and putted the eyes out of it. The thing I admire most about Reed is the same thing I admire most about his Ryder Cup partner (former Ryder Cup partner?) Jordan Spieth. And that is his willingness to grind out the bigger picture.in Round 1 at the Valspar and labored to get inside 80. Just over a month later he's sniffing a weekend lead at Quail Hollow. Maybe there's some disillusionment in there, but a little of that goes a long way over the course of a long successful career.
Who else had a great day? Webb Simpson was 3 over through eight holes but got it all he way to 2 under on the day at his home course. Simpson has never won here, but he's been outstanding in the last few weeks with a top 10 at the Masters and top 20 at the RBC Heritage. He finished in the top 10 from tee to green on Thursday (which is to be expected) and gave himself a good shot at getting in contention heading into the weekend.
Stat of the day: Jason Day has been on a really underrated stretch of golf in the last few weeks and months. It's been a little clouded by a WD and a MC, but he has four top 10s since January, including both the Players Championship and the Masters. He'll be a tough out over the final three days if the balloons are doing their job on his back.
Shot of the day: This one from McIlroy at the par-4 12th was hilariously good. Of course he missed the putt from 9 feet, but still! The shot was amazing.
What to watch on Day 2: Does Rory run away and hide? He's an elite frontrunner, and -- I realize this sounds hyperbolic but it might not be -- if he shoots another 66, the rest of the field could be cooked. It's hard enough to come from behind in a PGA Tour event, even more so when the leader doubles as a two-time winner at this event and the current leader in strokes gained on the PGA Tour.
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