CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The new greens at Quail Hollow proved to be a good tonic for Angel Cabrera, who made seven birdies in his round of 6-under 66 to take a two-shot lead among the early starters Thursday at the Wells Fargo Championship.
The club changed over to Bermuda greens as it prepares to host the 2017 PGA Championship.
Cabrera hasn't had a lot go right this year, making only two cuts in nine starts on the PGA Tour. But something worked in the opening round. Not only was it his best score of the year, it was only his fourth round in the 60s.
"It was a very good first round, and we have a lot to go," the Argentine said through a translator.
Jonathan Byrd and Stewart Cink each had a 68 in relatively calm, humid conditions in the morning. The wind began to pick up in the afternoon when Phil Mickelson played.
Rory McIlroy had six birdies and had to settle for a 69 when he failed to convert two good birdie chances late in his round.
Even so, he took advantage of the par 5s, which he failed to do at Augusta National last month, and was pleased to see adjustments in his putting stroke pay off.
Others at 69 included Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Martin Kaymer, who had a wild finish to his round. Kaymer played his final four holes in 2 under without making a birdie or a par. After a bogey on the par-3 sixth, he made eagle on the par-5 seventh, chipped in for eagle from just short of the green on the par-4 eighth and then closed with a birdie.
"Two eagles in a row, pretty rare. I don't think I've ever done that before," Kaymer said. "I missed a lot of short putts today as well, so therefor, 3-under par is OK. I stayed in the tournament. But overall, it would have been nice to get a couple more shots here and there because it was possible."
Quail Hollow is three years away from hosting its first major. Cabrera is acting as if it's already here. He seems to show up only at the biggest events. His only two victories in America were at the 2009 Masters and the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He also lost to Adam Scott in a playoff at Augusta National last year.
On this day, it was simply a matter of giving himself chances and making a few putts. He holed a birdie putt from 18 feet on No. 3, and knocked in a 40-footer from just off the green at No. 11. Cabrera made five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn, ending at No. 12 with an approach into 5 feet.
Then, it was a matter of hanging on.
He made tough par saves on the 16th and 17th, and appeared to be in trouble well right of the 18th fairway, blocked by trees. But he carved out a beautiful shot that reached the front of the green, and he two-putted from long range for par and his 66.
"I was lucky," Cabrera said.