Masters mourning is officially over for Rory McIlroy after 68 at Wells Fargo

May 3, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Rory McIlroy watches his putt on the ninth hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Masters mourning is officially over for Rory McIlroy after 68 at Wells Fargo

PGA Tour

Masters mourning is officially over for Rory McIlroy after 68 at Wells Fargo

CHARLOTTE, NC – Rory McIlroy came dressed in black, but make no mistake – the time for mourning his missed opportunity at The Masters has departed.

Playing in his first tournament since falling flat in the final round at Augusta National, McIlroy opened the Wells Fargo Championship with a 3-under 68 that left him a stroke off the lead following morning rounds.

Quail Hollow, a course on which McIlroy has won two previous events, turned out to be an ideal rinse for the bad taste lingering in his mouth the past four weeks. The Northern Irishman said after his round that there’s no other PGA Tour venue that provides more comfort for his game, and the timing after last month’s 2-over par final round in pursuit of Patrick Reed couldn’t be better.

“I love this place,” McIlroy said. “I play well here. I feel like I don’t have to play that good and I can still get it around.”

McIlroy got it going early Thursday, making birdie on three of his first six holes to grab a share of the lead. He dropped a stroke on the par-3 6th, his 15th hole of the day, following a disappointing green-side chip that left a tricky 8-footer for par.

One hole later, at the par-5 7th, McIlroy again faced a left-of-green shot. This time he would need to clear a bunker after getting the ball well up into the air, then stop it almost immediately on greens playing firmer than expected. He did exactly that, leaving 2 feet for a birdie that would move him back to -3.

“Is it really that easy?” a fan asked as McIlroy grabbed for his putter.

McIlroy smiled and thought for a beat.

“Yeah.”

It was for McIlroy, who said after his round that he figured a swirling breeze and those firm greens would keep his 3-under mark near the top of the leaderboard, at least for today.

In general, players are getting a toned-down version of the course they contended with at last year’s PGA Championship, which is why McIlroy expects double-digits under par to win it. Some tees are up, the grass is overseeded, the rough a bit more manageable. This is not a bad way to break back into competitive golf after a post-Masters stretch during which McIlroy remarked he “decompressed.”

“The course is a little easier than it was last August in the PGA,” he said. “Even if you don’t hit it quite so well, you can still get away with it most times.”

Yet with the towering pines and appreciable undulation, it’s not difficult to draw a few lines between the feel of this course and Augusta National just 159 miles to the southwest.

Well, in McIlroy’s case, there is one distinction between the two.

“Yeah, I’ve won here a couple times. That’s the difference.”

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