South Africa’s Dawie van der Walt started strong at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday. The PGA Tour rookie would be encouraged by his opening round of 67 considering he had missed three cuts in a row before this week.
A sketchy front nine was backed up by a superb back nine, which included four birdies and no drop shots, helping the two-time Web.com Tour winner to his best round since February.
The 2013 Tshwane Open Champion will be hoping it’s a sign of better things to come, having faced a miserable season in the US, with eight missed cuts from his 15 starts. Van der Walt can only show three top-50 finishes for his efforts on tour this season, with his best being a tie for 17th at the OHL Classic at the end of last year.
The two-time European Tour winner will hope that his opening round will propel him to a high finish, having not made the top 20 this year on tour.
While Van der Walt is near the top of the leaderboard, the pre-tournament hype was all about the return of Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman, who last teed up at Augusta three weeks ago, started on the 10th. His front nine was without birdies and ended with an ugly double bogey on the 18th. The four-time major winner had a better second nine that included a run of three birdies, which may be a sign of things to come when he tees off for his second round on Friday.
Away from the hype of the big names in the field, playing partners Steve Wheatcroft and Andrew Loupe shot to the head of the leaderboard, both carding seven-under par 65. Wheatcroft found the par fives on the course especially kind, coming away with two eagles along the way.
Loupe was bogey free and racked up seven birdies to hit the front, something unfamiliar considering he had missed cuts in his last two starts. Both players were in a jovial mood coming off together at the end of the round with Loupe quipping ‘We had a lot of fun out there… Hopefully we can just keep that going tomorrow.’