WASHINGTON: Steve Wheatcroft and Andrew Loupe had to battle the elements to shoot 65s and share the first-round lead at the USPGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Anirban Lahiri of India was one stroke behind after a 66. Kevin Chappell and South Africa’s Dawie van de Walt were another stroke back at 67.
Not only were the delays due to wind and rain difficult for the players, but defending champion Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler had to avoid a golf ball with an earplug attached thrown at them by a spectator on the sixth tee at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fowler was beginning his swing on the par-three, 250-yard hole when the ball came flying onto the tee box. The fan was caught by police and removed from the course.
Fowler was able to refocus and par the hole.
“I was getting ready to go up on the tee, and a ball flew over from the left side,” Fowler said. “Didn’t really know what it was. It looked like a golf ball, something was attached to it, later finding out it was an earplug.
“So random. The guy tried to say it was a gift. I don’t know why you would give a gift of a golf ball with an earplug attached to it.”
“It was one of those things,” said McIlroy, who won by seven shots last year. “It was a golf ball with an ear plug stuck on it, so it was sort of strange. Charlotte’s finest (the police) sorted it out and got him off the property, thankfully.”
It wasn’t the only wayward golf ball of the day for Fowler and McIlroy. Fowler, the 2012 Wells Fargo winner, shot a 71 to tie for 30th. McIlroy, a only two-time winner of the event, finished with a 73 to tie for 75th.
McIlroy, ranked third in the world, struggled with a 40 on his first nine holes.
American Phil Mickelson carded a 69, good for a share of ninth place.
“I have been able to play well here over the years, but just haven’t been able to breakthrough and get a victory,” Mickelson said.
“But I will keep knocking on the door and hopefully keep giving myself a chance.”