CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson praised the new greens at Quail Hollow Club, saying the changes made over the past year have greatly enhanced one of his favorite courses.
Mickelson said called the greens "stupendous" after an opening 5-under 67 on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Championship that left him one shot behind leader Angel Cabrera.
"The greens match up well with the beauty and simplicity of the design," Mickelson said. "I really believe it is one of the best golf courses I've played."
Mickelson said the greens are rolling great and the design is "just perfect."
That's a far different reaction than players had last year when the course was besieged with bad publicity when the bent grass greens were predominantly bumpy and spotted with unsightly patches of dirt. Nine players withdrew before the start of the 2013 tournament.
Shortly after last year's event, Quail Hollow began making major renovations, replacing the greens with Bermuda grass in advance of hosting the 2017 PGA Championship.
"Overall, they're great," said Martin Flores, who also shot 67. "I know they're brand new (but) they're very firm which is making the golf course a lot harder. You have to pick and choose when you can fire at them and when you can't."
Added Stewart Cink: "I think this is going to be a great long-term change for the course."
EAGLES HAVE LANDED: Martin Kaymer pulled off the rare feat of back-to-back eagles on Nos. 7 and 8 before bogeying the ninth to finish with a 69.
Kaymer said after his round it's the eagles he'll remember from the opening round, not the bogey. The 29-year-old German said he had never had back-to-back eagles before.
"I told my caddie to keep the ball," Kaymer said. "It's very rare when you make two eagles in a row."
Kaymer was at even par when he sank a 17-foot eagle putt on the par-5 seventh to turn the momentum. He followed that up by chipping in from 67 yards.
CABRERA CADDIE: Cabera returned to Quail Hollow with an old caddie.
Ruben Yorio was on the bag when the Argentine won the 2009 Masters, but it wasn't long before they parted ways. Cabrera has used his son, his stepson and most recently Jose Luis Campra, a golf coach and caddie from Cordoba.
Yorio said Cabrera called out of the blue and asked him if he wanted to caddie for a few weeks. Then again, it might only be this week. Yorio said Cabrera's son, Angelito, was due to arrive this week and work The Players Championship.
A WISE MOVE: Rory McIlroy was hopeful of squeezing a few more birdies out of his round of 69. He hit a mediocre bunker shot next to the green on the par-5 seventh and a chip from in front of the green on the short par-4 eighth that ran 10 feet by the hole.
But he also took his medicine.
On the third hole, McIlroy pulled his tee shot and it struck a tree and went some 30 yards deeper into the woods. It looked like he had no shot but to pitch 50 yards back to the fairway, except that the 24-year-old thought he saw a way out.
He was so far left that he could hit a low punch down a road that ran behind the corporate tents. He had caddie J.P. Fitzgerald run down the road to get a yardage. The idea was to hit it beyond the row of trees and past the tents to leave a chip onto the green.
Fitzpatrick returned, gave him a scouting report and talked him out of it.
"Once we get past the trees, we're fine," the caddie told him. "Realistically, we're going to make 5. So it's probably not worth it."
McIlroy took his advice.
"I can still make 4?" he said.
"Yes," Fitzpatrick said.
He pitched out, hit about 30 feet below the hole and missed the putt to take bogey. But it could have been worse.
McIlroy shot 69.
FREE AS A BYRD: Jonathan Byrd started the season on a major medical exception due to a wrist injury, but has battled to get his Tour card.
Byrd, who shot 68 Thursday, said that has left him feeling a lot more relaxed.
"I felt like I was carrying a boulder around the golf course," Byrd said. "It's freed me up. You still have issues that you always have but it's been a lot easier playing golf. It's hard playing when you know what you have to make."
THE NOT SO TOP 10: Only two of the world's top 10 players teed off at Quail Hollow — Mickelson and Justin Rose. That's a bit unusual considering the tournament hosted the entire top 10 in 2007 and 27 of the top 30 ranked players in the world.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.