Shane Lowry let slip much of the gloss off his opening round in bogeying two of his closing three holes in a level par 71 at the Wells Fargo Championship, where Phil Mickelson sets the bar at seven-under par.
A great sight ahead of the tee-off for Lowry followers was the return of his Open Championship winning caddy, Bo Martin by his side. There had been uncertainty for Lowry when he revealed at the RBC Heritage that Martin had to return home for fears over a new rule introduced by the Irish Government that anyone returning to Ireland had to undergo a compulsory 10-day hotel self-isolation. It meant Lowry having to use a ‘stand-in’ caddy at Hilton Head.
However, the pair have been reunited at Quail Hollow and got off to a great start on day one teeing-off the par-5 10th in holing a 20-footer from the left side of the green for a birdie. Lowry got a flyer from a greenside bunker down the left side of the par-4 11th that flew the green and resulted in a two-putt bogey from 10-feet.
However, Lowry put that behind him holing a two-and-a-half footer at the par-3 13th and then two-putting the par-5 15th for the third birdie of his round.
Lowry headed to his inward nine having three-putted his ninth from some 30-feet for a bogey ‘5’ ahead of a run of five straight pars before landing his 255-yard tee shot at the par-3 sixth hole, or the 15th of his round, to just 18 inches to get back to two-under par.
However, the current World No. 45’s bogey, bogey finish saw him sign for an even par 71, good enough for a share of 53rd alongside fellow Irishman, Seamus Power. Like Lowry, the West Waterford man also started from the back nine, recovering from a third hole bogey with three birdies on the spin to make the turn in two-under.
But also like Lowry, Power let slip his opening nine scoring, dropping three shots in four holes from the fifth, his 14th, before signing off with a 13 foot birdie putt at the last.
Meanwhile, double Quail Hollow winning Rory McIlroy fared slightly poorer in producing a one-over par 72. McIlroy was returning to the Tour for the first time since his missing the cut at the Masters. He has been drawn to play the opening two Quail Hollow rounds in the company of fellow major winners Patrick Reed and in-form Stewart Cink.
It was a positive start for McIlroy after revealing ahead of the event his work with coach Pete Cowen since Augusta was drawing on the strengths in his game. McIlroy split the fairway at the par-4 third hole and then landed his approach to 12-feet and rolled-in a first birdie
He dropped a shot at the sixth but regained the stroke in holing a 10-footer for birdie at the par-5 seventh and then after a run of three pars, McIlroy bogeyed the 11th to drop back to level par.
It was then a run of five pars, including a wild drive right off the tee at 15 and a missed birdie putt on 16 before a disappointing bogey at the par-4 17th where he three-putted from 30-feet, with his third putt from six feet not even hitting the hole.
McIlroy ended his round holing a four-footer for par and his 72 stroke leaves him in a share of 73rd overnight. For the record Reed doubled 17 for a level par 71 while Cink bogeyed three of his closing five holes also in a 71.
It was all about Phil Mickelson on day one who perhaps had been reading some of the comments about a certain 50-year old pushing a Super League agenda of late. The five-time Major winner proved there’s plenty of life in the tank yet, posting a superb eight birdies in an opening 65 to hold a two-shot lead over Kyoung-Hoon Lee and Keegan Bradley.
“Just focus,” is what Mickelson said was the biggest difference on Thursday to his missed cut last week at the Valspar. “I’m just present on each shot. This course holds my attention. I’ve been doing some like, you know, some mental exercises and so forth just to try to get my focus to elongate over five hours and so forth.
“That’s been a real struggle for me the last few years because physically, there’s nothing physically holding me back from playing at a high level, but you cannot make mistakes at this level. The guys out here are just so good, and I’ve been making a lot of errors, just simply not being mentally sharp.”
Mickelson put a two-wood in play to great effect on day one in North Carolina, taking to ground warfare and keeping his ball out of the window on his way to setting the benchmark at seven-under.
“It’s just kind of a mini driver head that I use as a strong 3-wood, and out here, because the fairways are so firm, if I hit it low enough, I’m able to get a lot of chase out of it and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing any distance,” he explained.
“So that allows me to kind of keep my misses a lot tighter. Today I hit it very successful, I hit a lot of good shots with it. My misses that I did miss weren’t as far offline and I was able to salvage pars. But that club has allowed me to kind of get it in play and then let my irons take over. My irons has always been the strength of my game, I just haven’t been able to use them enough. But that club’s working really well around here.”
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