Friday, March 24, 2023

2022 Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard: Jason Day leads with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler making some noise

The first round of the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship had a little bit of everything. Hole-outs, a rules controversies and low scores were abundant at TPC Potomac on Thursday as competitors began play in Potomac, Maryland. Jason Day is the name at the top of the leaderboard as the 34-year-old took full advantage of the soft conditions caused by rains earlier in the week signing for a 7-under 63.

Day has remained winless since his victory at Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2018. Those struggles have continued into this year where after a contention run at the Farmers Insurance Open in January he has played sparingly. Teeing it up only five times in the last couple of months, the Australian’s best result since Torrey Pines came alongside his fellow countryman, Jason Scrivener, at the Zurich Classic where they finished in a tie for 10th. 

While the gray clouds did not subside to precipitation Thursday, they unfortunately likely will the remainder of the week. With heavy rains forecasted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it is unknown when and in what conditions players will next face the golf course. It’s a far cry from 2018, the last time the PGA Tour visited TPC Potomac, as the par-70 is susceptible to birdies and should be moving forward.

Rick Gehman and Kyle Porter breakdown and react to Thursday’s action at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  

The leader

Jason Day (-7): Four years after the fact, Day is now positioned to win the Wells Fargo Championship again. The 2018 winner of this tournament at Quail Hollow Golf Club, the former world No. 1 came out firing on Thursday. Carding eight birdies against just one bogey, Day came within reach of the competitive course record of 8-under 62, but instead settled for one stroke short.

“Yeah, I am encouraged,”  Day said. “I think it’s a good step in the right direction. I obviously, I’ve got to give myself a pat on the back because I played some nice golf today, but we’ve got three more days after this and I think the main goal is to try and focus and get yourself in a position where you can win. Yeah, good positive stuff today. Get back, recover and try and get into tomorrow’s round.”

Other contenders

2. Joel Dahmen (-6)

T3. Matthew Wolff, Denny McCarthy, Aaron Rai, Callum Tarren, Paul Barjon (-5)

There are a number of good stories sitting at 5 under ranging from Wolff to McCarthy, but Dahmen is the player who catches my attention. Going out in 6-under 29, the 34-year-old was unable to keep this momentum rolling into the homeward half, failing to take advantage of some of the more scoreable holes at TPC Potomac. He has performed his best this year at shorter, positional courses when looking at his results at Pebble Beach and Harbour Town and this week appears to be no different.

Rory kicks off his title defense in sporadic fashion

There was a lot of good and a little bad for Rory McIlroy. After starting 4 under through his initial six holes, the freshly minted 33-year-old was without a par until he missed a birdie putt from short range on the par-4 16th, his seventh hole of the day. Three-putting for bogey on his very next hole, McIlroy would level out, with the exception of one swing. 

Finding water off the tee on the par-4 fourth hole, McIlroy subsequently made a double-bogey, dropping to 1 under for his round. With five birdies on his card at this point, the four-time major champion would tack on two more, converting back-to-back par-breakers on the fifth and sixth holes.

“Yeah, that was a nice bounce back to birdie both of those holes coming back. I said to myself walking off the green, if I could just get back to 3 under for the day by the end of the day after that, I would be pretty happy, and obviously I did that within the next two holes,” McIlroy said. “I had some chances coming in, but yeah, happy with the day. And over the course of a tournament you’re going to have — you’re going to think about shots that you could have held onto, but I think at the end of the week it all sort of evens out. I can’t be too disappointed.”

Home crowd propels McCarthy into contention

It isn’t quite his childhood golf course, Argyle Country Club, but TPC Potomac has doubled as home this week for Rockville, Maryland native Denny McCarthy. The best golfer to come out of the area in recent memory, the 29-year-old gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about on Thursday.

Signing for a 5-under 65, McCarthy was greeted with cheers and applause on nearly every hole as the number of spectators following his group was second only to McIlroy’s in the early wave. 

“It felt like a Sunday a little bit, honestly. I think that’s only a good thing, I felt really comfortable,” McCarthy said. “If I’m in that spot on Sunday, I got a little taste of it today, honestly. There was a decent amount of people following and I could feel the energy. I think that’s only going to bode well for me.”

When asked what a typical Thursday gallery looks like for him, McCarthy added: “The numbers are probably single digits, I can probably count on one hand if not two hands. So it was nice to — like I said, it kind of felt like a Sunday just having a nice crowd here. The fact that I was really comfortable under those circumstances is encouraging.”

Fowler is on the prowl

A decade removed from his Wells Fargo Championship title, Rickie Fowler is lurking once again. Experiencing well-documented struggles, the 33 year old finds his name on the first page of the leaderboard after the opening round. Signing for a 4-under 66, Fowler was finally able to find his putting stroke in unison with his iron play, with the exception of the par-4 6th where his putter was not needed.

Updated odds and picks

Here’s a look at the new odds after 18 holes, courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Jason Day: 6-1
  • Rory McIlroy: 8-1
  • Joel Dahmen: 9-1
  • Denny McCarthy: 20-1
  • Sergio Garcia: 22-1
  • Aaron Rai: 22-1
  • Matthew Wolff: 25-1
  • Max Homa: 25-1
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick: 28-1

Homa intrigues me given his ball-striking abilities and the way in which he putted on his inward half. However, if this thing gets ugly in terms of the weather, Fitzpatrick may be the best value on the board. He put together a pretty pedestrian round of 2-under 68, failing to hit many of his approach shots close. The rest of his game looked solid and he has sneakily been one of the most consistent players in 2022, so I would not be surprised if he is relevant come Sunday.

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