Wells Fargo Championship: Defending champion Rory McIlroy unfazed by new venue, makes strong start

There were plenty of good vibes for the Northern Irishman ahead of the first round at TPC Potomac – and he used them to his advantage.

Different golf course, same old Rory McIlroy.

Not just one way, either, but twice.

This week he defends the Wells Fargo Championship though not at his favourite course Quail Hollow where he has enjoyed three wins and one play-off defeat.

No matter.

He carded a first round 3-under-par 67 at TPC Potomac, two back of the clubhouse leader Matthew Wolff early in the morning wave.

And the second way in which the Northern Irishman was performing at his best on this new track?

Earlier this week he found himself thinking that everything felt a little familiar.

"It's cool," he said on Wednesday. "I was driving in here yesterday morning, looked left and I thought, 'That looks like Congressional. Oh, that is Congressional.' So good vibes obviously from this area."

Congressional is, of course, where he thrashed the field by eight strokes to win his first Major, the 2011 US Open.

"I still to this day think it's the best week of golf I've played in my life," he added. "The ball was on a string that week and you wish you could bottle that. Unfortunately, that's not the case, but I think that's still the benchmark of how I can play. That's as good as I could play that week."

Of this week's challenge across the road he said: "Any time you can defend a title, it's a nice thing to do. Obviously my success at this tournament's been at Quail Hollow and not here. Never played here before, never seen the venue, but I really like it. It's just a solid golf course."

On Thursday morning it took him seven holes to record a par after starting on the back nine, but the good news was that he'd swapped five birdies, two of them from outside 20-feet, with just the one bogey.

He three-putted the 17th for a bogey and found water at the par-4 fourth on his way to a double bogey-6, but responded with back-to-back birdies, from 12 and 19-feet, at five and six before parring his way in.

He landed 16 of 18 greens in regulation and gained over two strokes on the field with his approach play, good for a ranking of sixth.

That's a very early position, but it's a big improvement on recent times because, as Dave Tindall highlighted pre-tournament, he ranks a lowly 95th this season.

He was also happy with his response to the two dropped shots on the sixth.

"That was a nice bounce back to birdie both of those holes coming back," he admitted. "I said to myself walking off the green that if I could just get back to 3-under by the end of the day I would be pretty happy, and obviously I did that within the next two holes.

"Happy with the day. I can't be too disappointed and pretty happy with 67. It could have been a 65 or a 64, but it's still a good start."

He is not only chasing a fourth tournament win this week, but a ninth top 10 in just his 11th appearance.

READ MORE: Revealed: The weakness that has stopped Rory McIlroy winning a Major since 2014

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