PGA Tour

Solid start for McIlroy at Wells Fargo Championship

Rory McIlroy (AP)
Rory McIlroy (AP)

Miami - Rory McIlroy is off to a solid start in his quest for a third victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, firing an opening round three-under 68 to sit just three strokes off the lead. 

The 28-year-old Northern Ireland star showed little signs of rust in his first start since a disappointing tie for fifth at the Masters. 

McIlroy, a winner at Quail Hollow in 2010 and 2015, carded five birdies and two bogeys, to remain three shots behind leader American John Peterson, who posted a six-under 65. 

"I love this place," said McIlroy, who turns 29 on Friday. "I feel like I don't have to play that well and I can still get it around." 

Five other players were tied for second on four-under - Peter Malnati, England's Tyrrell Hatton, Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell and Kyle Stanley. 

Tiger Woods, also teeing it up for the first time since the Masters, carded an even-par 71 that left him tied for 34th. 

McIlroy was alongside Keegan Bradley, Australian Geoff Ogilvy and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, all part of a group of 10 sharing seventh place at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Seven players, including former world number one Jason Day and England's Paul Casey, were a shot back after carding two-under-par 69s. 

McIlroy, teeing off on the back nine, made a perfect start on his first hole, the 592-yard par-five 10th, chipping his third shot to two feet and tapping in for birdie. 

A further birdie followed two holes later, McIlroy rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt after reaching the green in two. 

Another superb short iron left him with a simple putt for birdie on the 15th, but a bogey at the turn - finding the water hazard down the left hand side of the 18th fairway, dropped him back to two under. 

He regained that dropped shot on the second, hitting a majestic iron to 10 feet before stroking home the birdie. 

A bogey on the sixth threatened to undo his good work before another sublime chip from the edge of the green gave him another birdie on the seventh. 

Peterson's round of two eagles, three pars and a bogey included rare back-to-back hole outs. 

"Not often do you go almost 30 minutes without having to putt," said Peterson. 

Woods was tied with Ernie Els, Stewart Cink and Masters champion Patrick Reed after a mixed round that saw him drain some long putts but also miss a few easy ones. 

Woods said on a few of the holes he had a lot trouble reading the putts. 

"The greens are slow. They're springy and their firm. That's not a combo you would expect," he said. "I've just got to make the adjustments." 

Still in the early stages of his return from debilitating back trouble, Woods said the more he plays, the better he feels. 

"I'm just trying to get better. I've felt like I've played my way into playing shape now," he said. "Whether it's the simple act of walking and playing, recovery from day-to-day, playing week-to-week. I feel like I've played my way back into the rhythm of it."

Leading first-round scores on Thursday in the PGA Tour's Wells Fargo Championship (USA unless stated):

65 - John Peterson

67 - Peter Malnati, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG), Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell, Kyle Stanley

68 - Aaron Wise, Rory McIlroy (NIR), Michael Thompson, Tom Lovelady, Keegan Bradley, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS), Ollie Schniederjans, Jason Dufner, Emiliano Grillo (ARG), Beau Hossler

69 - Paul Casey (ENG), Jason Day (AUS), Tony Finau, Ross Fisher (ENG), Bud Cauley, T.J. Vogel, Sam Burns

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