CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Defending champion Rory McIlroy is off to another slow start at the Wells Fargo Championship, but it could have been a lot worse. McIlroy was able to avoid a repeat of his back-nine meltdown at Augusta by escaping from several potential disasters Thursday morning at Quail Hollow.
"The story of the day for me was I just didn't hit it very well," McIlroy said after signing for a three-over 75. "Which is unlike me, being the strength of my game."
McIlroy struggled with misses to the right, and after a blocked drive on the 16th tee, his seventh hole of the day, McIlroy grunted in frustration and lightly punched the face of his driver when his ball splashed in a fairway bunker.
On his second shot, McIlroy caught the lip and his ball dove to the right, coming to rest next to a tree on a patch of pine straw about 60 yards from the green. With a branch hanging overhead and a bunker guarding the pin, McIlroy took several minutes deciding what to do.
"I was worried about a tree root just in front of my ball, and I really didn't know what way to play it," he said.
McIlroy's low pitch clipped a branch and cleared the lip of the bunker by inches. He missed the putt for par, but from where his drive landed, McIlroy was happy he avoided a big number.
"It could have been a great four, but from where my second shot landed I would have taken a five," he said.
From the fairway on 18, McIlroy's second shot found the downslope on the front right bunker, and he was forced to splash out away from the pin. His par putt flew by the hole and he had to make a six-foot putt to avoid a double bogey.
McIlroy's best recovery came on the par-5 seventh when another blocked tee shot found the water. From about 227 yards, McIlroy went for the green on his third shot but found the left front bunker. He then played a delicate bunker shot that fed down the slope and enabled him to save par.
After his round, McIlroy hit to the range to work on his timing. He said he was getting ahead of the ball and it led to the blocked shots.
On Monday, McIlroy's putting was the hot topic when he was spotted working with Dave Stockton on the practice green.
Short putts have plagued McIlroy in big tournaments, but he's not taking apart his stroke with Stockton. McIlroy said they just worked on his routine and how to approach a putt, and didn't really work on his mechanics at all.
"I just wanted to see him this week," McIlroy said after his round, giving no indication it was a long-term partnership. "My putting at Augusta, really the whole week at Augusta, wasn't what it should have been."
(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)