A recharged K.H. Lee of Korea rode on a hot putter for an opening 5-under 66 for tied second place after the first round of the US$20 million Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday.
The two-time PGA TOUR winner overcame an early bogey with five birdies at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina to lie one back of first round leader Tommy Fleetwood of England as the Korean enjoyed a welcome return to Quail Hollow, which hosted the Presidents Cup last September where Lee made his International Team debut.
Lee’s compatriots Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im, who were also part of last year’s Presidents Cup, also enjoyed strong starts with rounds of 67, 68 and 69 respectively in the star-studded tournament. Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan opened with a 68.
A two-week break at home in Orlando allowed Lee to refuel and sharpen his short game which worked like a charm. After a bogey on No. 2, the 31-year-old hit three straight birdies from the fifth hole and he charged home with three more birdies, with a snaky 30-footer on 17 being the highlight.
“Yeah, today’s putter really hot. I had two weeks off, I tried a lot of practice with putting. I’m so happy because today a lot of putts,” said Lee, who ranked first in Strokes Gained: Putting where he picked up 2.78 strokes against the field.
He missed three greens in regulation but saved par on each occasion with some deft touches. A trip back to the famous venue, where he won two points for the International Team including a Singles victory over Billy Horschel, has also fired up Lee’s enthusiasm as he has not finished in the top-10 on TOUR since a T7 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January.
“I have really exciting memory when I tee up the first hole and then even when I bogey on two, still I’m so happy here. I just enjoyed it and then I made more birdies. I think No. 14, 15, I really had good birdie chances, but I didn’t make it. On 16, I hit a little miss shot into the bunker, but really had a good up and down. And I was so really lucky on 17 (with his long birdie putt). I’m so happy,” said Lee, who shares second place with amongst others, world No. 5 Xander Schauffele.
Tom Kim was another golfer who enjoyed a return to Quail Hollow as he produced a bogey free card. He sank four birdies on Hole Nos. 4, 5, 9 and 14 to share seventh place with the likes of Patrick Cantlay and Adam Scott. The 20-year-old, who is also a two-time PGA TOUR winner, missed six greens in regulation but scrambled superbly to keep the bogeys off his card.
Fleetwood, chasing a first PGA TOUR win, hit an eagle and four birdies en route to his third career 18-hole lead/co-lead on TOUR. With four previous runner-up finishes, the 32-year-old was pleased with his solid start. “I did what I needed to on the first few. I made two or three up-and-downs on the first six holes, which kept me at level par and then managed to make an eagle and a birdie (on 7 and 8). I was never like out of position that much. For the most part that was really good and quite stress free,” said Fleetwood, who holds six career wins on the DP World Tour.
Three-time Wells Fargo Championship winner, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, opened his campaign with a 68 on his return to TOUR action after missing the cut at the Masters Tournament last month while defending champion Max Homa shot a 70.
First-Round Notes – Thursday, May 4, 2023
Weather: Sunny. High of 72. Wind NW 5-10 mph.
|Tommy Fleetwood||65 (-6)|
|Kevin Streelman||66 (-5)|
|K.H. Lee||66 (-5)|
|Taylor Moore||66 (-5)|
|Xander Schauffele||66 (-5)|
|Ryan Palmer||66 (-5)|