CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Wheatcroft and Andrew Loupe each shot 7-under 65 on Thursday in rain and steady wind to share the first-round lead in the Wells Fargo Championship, while Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler dodged a golf ball thrown at them with an earplug attached to it.
As if battling a lengthy, saturated Quail Hollow Club course wasn't enough, playing partners McIlroy, Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama endured a bizarre event on the sixth tee box when a spectator hurled the dressed-up golf ball their way as Fowler was preparing to hit.
"So random," Fowler said. "The guy tried to say it was a gift. I don't know why you would give a gift of a golf ball with an earplug attached to it."
The man, who wasn't identified, was escorted from the property by police. He wasn't arrested.
"It was sort of weird," McIlroy said. "That's never really happened to me before."
Fowler, the 2012 winner, finished with 71, leaving him six shots behind Wheatcroft and Loupe, who were also paired together. McIlroy, the only two-time winner of the tournament, shot 73 after a bogey-plagued start to his title defense. He won by seven shots last year, finishing at 21 under.
Anibarn Lahiri was a shot back after 66.
Phil Mickelson, who has finished in the top five six times in 12 starts at the Wells Fargo Championship but never won, opened with 69.
"I have been able to play well here over the years, but just haven't been able to breakthrough and get a victory," Mickelson said. "But I will keep knocking on the door and hopefully keep giving myself a chance."
But the talk of the tournament came after McIlroy hit his tee shot on the green on the 250-yard, par-3 sixth hole. When Fowler stepped up to the tee he saw something fly by his left side, startling him for a moment.
He didn't know what it was until it stopped rolling.
McIlroy wound up with a birdie. Fowler and Matsuyama (74), carded 3s.
Loupe, 27, who has three top-10 finishes this season, shot 31 on the front nine. Wheatcroft did his work on the four par 5s, playing them in 6 under with two eagles and two birdies.
McIlroy has work to do to get into contention if he hopes to become the tournament's first three-time winner. He called his first competitive round since last month's Masters a "tale of two nines." The world's No. 3-ranked player shot 4-over 40 while starting on the back side, then had four birdies on the front.
Tourney deletes Cinco de Mayo post: The Wells Fargo Championship deleted a photo posted on its Twitter account of fans wearing sombreros and fake mustaches at the event to celebrate Cinco de Mayo after it was deemed insensitive by some. "Our intention was to help fans celebrate Cinco de Mayo," tournament spokesman Lee Patterson said. "We received some comments that we were being insensitive, which was never the tournament's intention."
LPGA: Laetitia Beck took the first-round lead in the Yokohama Tire Classic, dodging some of the wind in the morning in a bogey-free 7-under 65 at Prattville, Ala. Beck, 24, is the first Israeli player to qualify for the tour. Annie Park and Minjee Lee were tied for second at 67. They played in the afternoon. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome was at par 72.