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McIlroy shows form at site of career launch

ESPN staff
May 2, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Rory McIlroy won his first PGA title at Quail Hollow © Getty Images
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Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard

Rory McIlroy returned to the scene of his maiden PGA Tour title success to rediscover his magic touch on Thursday, firing an impressive five-under-par 67 to sit level with the clubhouse leaders at the Wells Fargo Championship.

McIlroy clinched the first of his six career PGA Tour triumphs at Quail Hollow in 2010 and, after a frustrating start to this season, is hoping North Carolina can once again prove inspiring territory as he searches for his first win in 2013.

There have been signs of a McIlroy recovery in recent weeks, with a second-placed finish at the Valero Texas Open followed by a promising showing at The Masters where one awful round spoiled the rest of his week's work.

Last year the 23-year-old was beaten in a play-off at Quail Hollow but he looks set to challenge again 12 months on, supporting a quartet of early pars with a run of four consecutive birdies on the front nine.

McIlroy's first bogey of the tournament saw him turn on three-under but he quickly got back to four-under at the 10th before joining the clubhouse leaders with another birdie at 11. Par-fours proved most challenging to the Northern Irishman as he dropped another at 12, but he consolidated with a run of pars before birdying the last to place himself right in the mix.

A group of players including Ryan Moore, Nick Watney, Robert Garrigus, Daniel Summerhays and Derek Ernst join McIlroy in a share of the clubhouse lead on five-under, with Garrigus producing one of the shots of the day as he carded an eagle at the par-five seventh.

Phil Mickelson finds himself in contention at the end of the first day's play, carding a four-under 68 to kick off his pursuit of a maiden Wells Fargo title. The American, who once described the greens at Quail Hollow as "the worst on tour", experienced a solitary blemish to his scorecard as he positioned himself within a stroke of the early leaders.

Lee Westwood enjoyed a productive 18 holes at the course that will be used to stage the 2017 PGA Championship. Westwood reached the turn at one-under-par and added a further birdie to stay in touch.

Elsewhere, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler both failed to make much of an impression on day one, achieving par after relatively different rounds. Fowler - the defending champion - was generally in control of his game, mixing three birdies with three bogeys, whereas Garcia caught fire around the turn before dropping a double-bogey on the penultimate hole.

But Thursday proved a nightmare for Padraig Harrington, who carded an eight-over 80 to prop up the leaderboard. Harrington used a belly putter for the first time in competitive action despite subscribing to the belief that the anchored putter should be banned.

"For the game, I definitely don't agree with anchoring at all,'' Harrington said. "I think it's bad for the game of golf. [But] I'm going to use everything if something's going to help me for the next three-and-a-half years, I'm going to use it."

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