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Schauffele shoots 67 to take Wells Fargo lead, McIlroy in contention

Xander Schauffele Xander Schauffele - The Canadian Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Rory McIlroy hoped that his victory with Shane Lowry two weeks ago in the Zurich Classic team event would serve as a springboard for the remainder of the season.

He's off to a good start.

McIlroy positioned himself for a run at a record fourth Wells Fargo Championship title Thursday, opening with a 4-under 67 that left him three shots behind leader Xander Schauffele.

Collin Morikawa and Alex Noren also shot 67, and Justin Thomas topped the group at 68.

Quail Hollow is one of McIlroy's favourite courses, and with good reason.

In 2010, McIlroy closed with a 62 that including six straight 3s on his card to win his first PGA Tour title two days before he was legally able to purchase an alcoholic beverage in North Carolina.

The star from Northern Ireland followed that with a seven-shot victory in 2015, shattering the tournament record at 21-under 267 after a course-record 61 in the third round. He added his third title in 2021.

“I’ve always had a great affinity for this place," McIlroy said. “Playing in front of these fans, I feel like Charlotte has sort of taken me in as one of their own. It’s been a great journey. I’ve celebrated I think 13 of my last 15 birthdays here as well because obviously when the tournament falls.

“Some awesome memories, and obviously trying to keep making more of those.”

The only other player to win the Wells Fargo Championship multiple times is Homa, the 2019 and 2022 champion — the latter coming in Potomac, Maryland. Homa overcame a rough start, bogeying two of his first three holes to shoot 69.

Corey Connors of Listowel, Ont., carded a 1-under and is tied for 16th.

Schauffele's 64 didn't come without a bit of controversy. Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor, both of Abbotsford, B.C., all shot even par and are tied for 31st. Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., is at 1 over and tied for 43rd. Mackenzie Hughes of Hamilton, Ont., is 2 over and tied for 49th.

After taking the lead at 6 under with an eagle on seventh, he sent his tee shot on No. 8 about 10 yards into some heavy woods and the ball came to rest near a metal fence line.

But instead of taking what seemed like an unplayable lie, Schauffele was able to get relief from the rules official and dropped outside of the woods because of a temporary immovable object. According to PGA Tour chief referee Gary Young, Schauffele would have had a one-foot window under the bushes to punch out, but a ShotLink tower was in his way.

“I could have hit a 4-iron or something low and just kind of run it through,” Schauffele said. “If it gets stuck, I’ll just kind of hit my next one out. But I brought the rules official in there with me because I was like, you’ve got to be OK with this because this is literally the only shot I can hit."

Schauffele was able to chip onto the green from the edge of the woods and two putt for par.

“What was a very stressful moment turned into a pretty stressless par,” he said.

And a huge break for Schauffele, who has seven top-10 finishes this season but is still searching for his first victory.

McIlroy was within two shots of Schauffele, but his fairway wood out of the bunker on the par-5 15th caught sand and the ball squirted off to the right about 50 yards away. That led to bogey, one of two in his final four holes.

Morikawa might be one to watch.

He finished third at the Masters and ninth at the RBC Heritage, giving him some momentum heading into Charlotte and possibly next week's PGA Championship. He started on the back nine and played a bogey-free round before making 5 on his closing hole, the par-4 ninth.

“I want to go on a run essentially, right? You want to go on a nice stretch of golf," Morikawa said. "So it was nice to obviously have that finish at the Masters even though it didn’t play out the way I wanted, but knowing that this week is going to be great prep especially going into next week (at the PGA Championship), just got to dial in everything as much as we can and be ready.”

Hideki Matsuyama, the world's 15th-ranked player, withdrew before the tournament because of a back injury.


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