Rory McIlroy in a familiar place atop Wells Fargo leaderboard at Quail Hollow

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Rory McIlroy in a familiar place atop Wells Fargo leaderboard at Quail Hollow

PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy in a familiar place atop Wells Fargo leaderboard at Quail Hollow

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CHARLOTTE – As a 20-year-old with unruly hair, Rory McIlroy made the cut on the number and then shot 62 in the final round at Quail Hollow to win the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship and claim his first PGA Tour title.

Five years later, with his hair trimmed down and four major championships under his belt, he shot 61 in the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship and cruised to a 7-shot victory, becoming the only player to win twice at Quail Hollow.

Now, four years later, a trimmed-down, muscled-up McIlroy put himself in position to become the first to win three times at Quail Hollow. With a 5-under-par 66 on Thursday, his familiar name was at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship.

“It’s a fun golf course. It’s a golf course that I feel very comfortable on. I’ve got some great memories here,” McIlroy said. “It has gone through different iterations since we started coming here, but every time they tweak something here or there, you know, it’s still sort of the same place and it really fits my eye.

“Every time I step onto this golf course, I feel like I have a chance to shoot a good score. I didn’t play my best today, I sort of managed my game well, scrambled well, but it added up to a good number at the end of the day.”

Joel Dahmen birdied two of his last four holes to pull even with McIlroy at day’s end. The two stood one shot clear of Patrick Reed, Martin Laird, Adam Schenk, Dylan Frittelli and Nick Taylor. Major champions Jason Day and Jason Dufner were in a large group two shots back.

But the clear favorite is McIlroy, not only for his play at Quail Hollow – in addition to his two victories, he also lost in a playoff in 2012 – but for his standout season he’s posted to this point. He’s been out of the top-10 just once in eight previous starts this year – a tie for 21st in the Masters – and he won The Players Championship against the strongest field of the season.

No matter what has been done to the course here in the Queen City, no matter what his form is coming into the tournament, more times than not McIlroy lights up at Quail Hollow. And as he’s matured as a player ahead of his 30th birthday on Saturday, another weapon in his bag is his ability to get the most out of his round when things aren’t clicking.

If one part of his game is letting him down, he turns to another part to steady the ship. Yes, he can overpower most any golf course on the planet, but he’s learned to, especially in the past two years, he said, get the best of any golf course as he focuses his mind on using other weapons in his golf bag to get by.

In years past, he’d turn 70s into 72s on occasion, 75s into 77s. Now he’s turning 70s into 66s, 75s into 71s.

“I felt like I hit it like I should have shot sort of a 1- or 2-under par round,” McIlroy said. “I felt sort of scrappy today. I made the most of what I have and made some good putts coming down the stretch, managed my game well and ended up being a good score. My short game was pretty good, I holed some good putts and that’s what you’re going to have to do around here especially as the course gets firmer.

“The reason my play’s been so consistent this year is those mediocre rounds, I’m still getting in the house under par, not making the big numbers. That’s what I think is going to lead to much more consistency for me, which I’ve started to do.

“It started to become a strength of my game over the last couple years, for sure.”

That’s not good news for his colleagues. Especially in the Wells Fargo Championship.

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