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GOLF: Haas leads after 1 at Quail Hollow

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Of all the times Bill Haas has played Quail Hollow, he never had a round quite like this.

Haas had stress-free birdies on all the par 5s and did little wrong on the rest of the holes Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship, matching the tournament record for lowest opening round with an 8-under 64 for a two-shot lead.

“I’ve got good feelings around this place,” Haas said.

It was his best score by four shots at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour, and way better than two dozen rounds he played as a kid when he would tag along with his father, Jay Haas, on the special trips they made to the course.

Haas had a two-shot lead over David Toms and Jonathan Byrd, who each had a 66 in the morning when it was barely above 40 degrees at the start of the tournament with a north wind that is uncommon for this tournament.

Ultimately, the afternoon turned out to be perfect – much like Haas and his round.

He did have a few key par saves, such as the 10-foot putt he made at the turn on the 18th hole. The key for Haas, though, was getting off to a good start on the slightly tougher back nine, and knowing he could afford to make a few mistakes.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy made some errors early, and he never quite caught up. In his first trip back to America after his Sunday collapse in the Masters, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland opened with a 75.

“The story of the day for me is I really didn’t hit it very well, which is unlike me,” McIlroy said. “It’d be the strength of my game and today I just wasn’t striking it well. My timing was off just a little bit.”

Pat Perez and Lucas Glover were at 67, while Rickie Fowler overcame a rugged start – two bogeys on his opening three holes – to lead a group at 68 that included Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby.

Phil Mickelson, in his first event since the Masters, hit two balls in the water on par 5s and scrambled for par each time. The first one was critical. He already was 1 over for the tournament through six holes when he came out of the pine straw and into the pond at No. 7. He holed a 12-foot par putt, then made birdie on the next four holes.

He wound up with a 69, along with Padraig Harrington.

“I hadn’t played in a few weeks, and to shoot under par was a good start,” Mickelson said. “It could have been a lot better, could have been a lot worse. I’ll certainly take it.”

The cold air made Quail Hollow play even longer in the morning, and it was particularly tough on the guys who don’t blast it. Toms fits into that category, which explains why he had to hit fairway metals for his second shot on three par 4s. The good news is he made par on all of them, and threw in seven birdies for a 66.

“It was cold this morning, and we were all out there with our jackets and sweaters on and playing these long par 4s,” Toms said. “If I can shoot 3 under on the front nine, as long as it played, I’ll take that any day.”

Toms won the first edition of this tournament in 2003.

Byrd rarely plays well here. Except for a tie for fifth a few years ago, he missed the cut in his other five appearance. He almost thought about skipping the Wells Fargo Championship, except that it’s close to his South Carolina roots.