CHARLOTTE — John Peterson shot a 6-under-par 65 on Thursday to build a two-shot lead after the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
Peterson, ranked No. 776 in the world, hasn’t finished better than a tie for 47th in four starts on the PGA Tour in 2018. However, the 29-year-old who doesn’t have so much as a Web.com Tour victory on his resume tamed the difficult Quail Hollow track with two eagles and three birdies against a lone bogey Thursday.
After dropping to 1 over with a bogey on No. 5, he carded consecutive eagles on Nos. 8 and 9 to get his round jump-started. He rolled in three birdies on the back nine to build a two-shot cushion over fellow Americans Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Johnson Wagner and Kyle Stanley as well as England’s Tyrrell Hatton.
“It felt awesome out there,” said Mitchell, who was leading at 5 under before putting his approach shot from out of the trees in the water on No. 18 and scrambling for bogey. “Especially the first 15 holes. It feels just easy out there today, but the last three holes are just so tough. When you get overconfident on those three holes, it can bite you.”
Like Peterson, Wagner carded two eagles on consecutive holes, Nos. 13 and 14. The two are the first players since Jason Day and Brian Vranesh in 2009 to each have multiple consecutive eagles in the same PGA Tour round.
Peterson, a former LSU All-American who won the NCAA individual championship in 2011, is playing on a major medical exemption after undergoing hand surgery in 2016. He is midway through the eight tournament starts he is granted by the exemption.
To retain his full-time PGA Tour playing privileges, Peterson must make either 274 FedEx Cup points or $375,165 in prize money before the eight starts are up. Entering this week, he had 20 points and $57,069.
Peterson, 29, has a new baby at home in Texas, and he might retire if he doesn’t reach the thresholds necessary to retain his PGA Tour card.
“I don’t hate it out here, but I don’t like the travel at all,” Peterson said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “I’ve never had consecutive eagles before. I haven’t had enough days like this. So, I’m just going to try and win this tournament. If it doesn’t happen, then whatever.”
Rory McIlroy, the event’s only two-time winner, is another shot off the pace in a 10-way logjam in seventh place after opening with a 3-under 68.
“I played well. … I would have taken that score before I went out there,” McIlroy, who said he struggled during Wednesday’s pro-am, told the Golf Channel. “I was a little apprehensive going out there today, I didn’t know what to expect. I made some good swings, hit some good putts, and 68 is a good way to start.”
McIlroy is playing for the first time since last month’s Masters, as is Tiger Woods, who posted an even-par 71 on Thursday. He is tied for 34th with Masters champion Patrick Reed, who recovered from a double bogey on No. 17 with a rare birdie on the closing of the “Green Mile” to get back to even.
“I hit the ball fine, I struggled with my speed all day,” Woods told the Golf Channel. “It’s weird. The greens are firm, springy, but they’re putting slow, so my feel was off all day.
“They’re springy and they’re firm, that’s not a combo you would expect. So I just need to make the adjustments. I struggled to make the adjustments today.”
Justin Thomas, who won his first major at Quail Hollow last year, the PGA Championship, struggled to a 2-over 73 and sits in a tie for 79th.
Playing in the morning wave, Phil Mickelson carded a 1-over 72 and is in a tie for 59th along with Rickie Fowler and reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. Koepka was paired with Reed and Woods as he makes just his second start following a fourth-month layoff to recover from a wrist injury.
The group at 1-over also includes reigning event champion Brian Harman, whose victory came at the Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, with Quail Hollow setting up for the 2017 PGA Championship.