By the time the wind began to kick up late Thursday morning during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, Angel Cabrera was safely in the clubhouse with a lead.
Cabrera’s 6-under-par 66 would hold up throughout the day, against challenges from Phil Mickelson and Martin Flores to take a one-shot lead.
Mickelson and Flores, who shot 5-under 67s, both played during a blustery afternoon that made scoring a dicey proposition over the par-72 layout that is featuring newly surfaced greens.
“The wind blew a lot harder than expected and turned a lot of holes that are normally pretty easy into pretty tough” holes,” said Charlotte resident and Raleigh native Webb Simpson, who played during the afternoon and whose 68 placed him in a three-way tie for fourth with Stewart Cink and former Clemson player Jonathan Byrd.
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But Argentina’s Cabrera, a two-time major champion who had a 7:30 a.m. tee time, played under more benign conditions and took full advantage.
“The morning (went) really, really well,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “Not so much wind, so I played good golf.”
Cabrera used just 24 putts to get around the course.
“I saved myself on the holes that I didn’t play so well,” said Cabrera, who has struggled since a runner-up finish in the 2013 Masters. He has had just one top-10 since losing to Adam Scott in a playoff at Augusta National and has missed seven cuts in his nine previous PGA tournaments this season.
It appeared for a while that Cabrera would be caught. Mickelson birdied three of four holes at one point to draw close. Flores, the world’s 226th-ranked player who has five top-10 finishes during an eight-year career, bracketed bogeys on Nos. 1 and 17 with seven birdies.
Mickelson birdied the par-5 15th hole to take a share of the lead with Cabrera, but he gave it back two holes later when a 4-foot par putt lipped out.
“It was a really good round for me,” said Mickelson, who is looking for his first victory in the Wells Fargo tournament. “I haven’t gotten off to great starts, and I was trying to get a good focus to get a good round in on Thursday. I always feel like I’m playing from behind, so to get off to a quick start is a good sign – and what I needed.”
Simpson was encouraged by his day. He offset a double-bogey on No. 9 with seven birdies. It was only his second round in the 60s out of his past 17, dating to the Phoenix Open during early February.
“I made seven birdies, and that was a huge positive accomplishment,” said Simpson, who is a member at Quail Hollow. “I see a lot of familiar faces and it’s fun to try and play well. I’m not used to it. Normally, they’re for Ernie (Els) and Phil and Tiger (Woods). It feels great to be home.”
Nine players are tied for seventh at 3 under, including U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, 2005 Quail Hollow winner Vijay Singh and 2010 champion Rory McIlroy.
Like Cabrera, Cink played during the morning when the winds were lighter and the brand-new greens softer.
“It was beautiful out there,” Cink said. “But when we got to the second (front) nine, the wind picked up and it got quite a bit more tricky. So I think the scores leveled off pretty fast. I know mine did.”
Conditions don’t figure to change much Friday and over the weekend, although it doesn’t figure to be as windy as Thursday afternoon.