(Reuters) - While Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson made uneven starts, Stewart Cink birdied his last three holes to surge into a three-way tie for the lead in Thursday’s opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.
American Cink, seeking his first PGA Tour victory since his playoff win at the 2009 British Open, fired a seven-under-par 65 to end a humid day at Quail Hollow Club level with compatriots Ryan Moore and Webb Simpson.
Australian John Senden, Britain’s Brian Davis and American Rickie Fowler, D.A. Points and Patrick Reed had matching 66s as golfing heavyweights Woods and Mickelson had to settle for 71s.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy three-putted to bogey his final hole for a 70, British world number three Lee Westwood carded a 71 and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover launched his title defense with a 72.
Cink, who has mainly struggled for form since pulling off his first major victory at Turnberry in Scotland three years ago, was delighted to remain bogey-free despite not playing his best.
”It was a good round,“ the 38-year-old told reporters after sinking a 20-footer on his final hole, the par-four ninth. ”It wasn’t a great round, far from perfect, but I had a few putts go in the hole and managed my misses pretty well.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I‘m back ... but it’s still good to see something like this and give yourself a little bit of confidence,” added Cink, who has recorded only one top-25 finish in 10 starts on the 2012 PGA Tour.
Woods, champion here in 2007, put himself under early pressure after bogeying two of his first six holes on his return to the PGA Tour for the first time since last month’s Masters.
”I made too many mistakes on the front nine,“ the 14-times major champion said after mixing four birdies with three bogeys. ”I didn’t get up and down a couple times and made a couple bad shots on the wrong side of the hole.
“I didn’t take care of the par-fives and I had an easy up and in at eight, which I messed up there. I’ve got to obviously not make those little mistakes like that tomorrow.”
McIlroy, who closed with a course record 62 to blow away a top-quality field by four shots at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship, was let down by his usually accurate driving.
“I didn’t hit many fairways and if you do that around here, it makes it a lot more difficult to score,” the 22-year-old said after carding four birdies and two bogeys.
“Conditions out there were pretty much perfect. Seventy probably wasn’t enough out there but it’s okay. I’ll go out tomorrow and see if I can do a little better.”
Four-times major champion Mickelson was briefly derailed by a triple-bogey at the par-four fourth where he hit his tee shot out of bounds.
”I played pretty well today and hit a lot of greens but made one mistake with the triple there,“ left-hander Mickelson said after a five-birdie display. ”That was a really poor tee shot.
“Fortunately I came back to shoot one under. I’ll try and come out tomorrow and shoot something in the mid-60s and get into the weekend ... if I can get a hot round, I’ll get right in it.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom