England’s Fleetwood grabs PGA lead at Quail Hollow

England’s Tommy Fleetwood closed with back-to-back birdies to fire a bogey-free, six-under-par 65 and grab a one-stroke lead after Thursday’s first round of the PGA Wells Fargo Championship.

Fleetwood, a six-time European Tour winner chasing his first PGA title, made four birdies and an eagle to take charge at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I made a couple of good up and downs early doors,” Fleetwood said. “Overall I did a really good job of playing my game, hitting the shots I can hit and the score then took care of itself.”

Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele had back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 to seize the lead but bogeys at 16 and 18 dropped him into a share of second on 66 with fellow Americans Kevin Streelman, Ryan Palmer and Taylor Moore and South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon.

Fleetwood, making his 116th PGA start, birdied three of the last five holes to lead after a round for the first time since last year’s Players Championship opening round.

Fleetwood landed his approach eight feet from the hole at the par-5 seventh and rolled in the eagle putt, then sank a birdie from just inside five feet at the eighth and sank a 21-foot birdie putt at 14.

He was still off the pace until making an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th, and at 18 he blasted from a fairway bunker to just inside eight feet and sank the birdie putt to grab the lead.

“Didn’t do anything particularly wrong,” Fleetwood said. “I didn’t drive it great on the back nine, but I was never out of position that much, never really hit myself in difficult spots.

“That was really good and quite stress-free. And then just a good finish on top of that, 17 and 18, unexpected birdies there, but you’ll take them when they come.”

Bogeys arrived for Schauffele at the finish, crushing his hopes for the 18-hole lead. He found a fairway bunker and came up short of the green at 16 and sent his tee shot into the water at 18.

“I really had it going there. Ball was on a string for a bit, did everything really well,” Schauffele said. “Played really well through 15 holes and then had a little hiccup there coming in.

“I had a big enough head start on the course that I figured giving some back wouldn’t hurt me too much.”

Schauffele seeks his eighth career PGA title and first since last year’s Scottish Open.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner and three-time champion at Quail Hollow, celebrated his 34th birthday with a 68, spectators serenading him with birthday best wishes all over the course.

“It’s nice to be out there and everyone wishing you a good day,” McIlroy said. “This is my 11th birthday I’m celebrating in Charlotte. I’m sort of getting used to it.

“I feel just as good now as I did at 24 so with that I still feel like I’ve got a lot of good years left in me.”

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