For all the talk about the greens, Rory McIlroy’s most important club was his driver Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship.
McIlroy kept the ball in play at Quail Hollow and gave himself plenty of birdie chances on a cloudy, soft afternoon in Charlotte, N.C. He ran off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch around the turn and finished with an 8-foot birdie putt for a 5-under-par 67 to share the lead with six others.
It was the first time this year McIlroy has been atop the leaderboard after any round, and the first time he broke par in the opening round.
‘‘Now that I feel like I’m swinging it well, this is the sort of golf I expect to play,’’ McIlroy said.
Nick Watney, Ryan Moore, Robert Garrigus, and PGA Tour rookie Derek Ernst shot 67 in the morning. Daniel Summerhays and Nate Smith, a Monday qualifier, joined McIlroy by posting their 67s in the afternoon.
Phil Mickelson and Lucas Glover were in a large group at 68, with 19-year-old Jordan Spieth in another big group at 69.
McIlroy got into the mix quickly with four straight birdies — two of them on the par 5s: a 7-iron to 3 feet on the par-3 sixth hole, and a big drive on the short, par-4 eighth that left him a flip wedge into about 3 feet. A tee shot that found the rough on the ninth led to bogey, but the world’s No. 2 player bounced back with an up-and-down birdie on the par-5 10th and an approach into 8 feet on the 11th for another birdie.
It’s just one round, though it feels like a long way from a few months ago. The start to the season for McIlroy was marked by a missed cut, a first-round loss in the Match Play Championship, walking out of the Honda Classic from frustration after 27 holes and loads of speculation about his decision to change equipment after last year.
Thursday was another step in the right direction.
‘‘It’s big strides because my game wasn’t where it should have been at all at the start of the year,’’ McIlroy said. ‘‘Got into a couple of bad habits on my swing, and it just took me a little bit of time to get out of them.’’
European — Ye Wocheng, a 12-year-old amateur, became the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event, shooting a 7-over 79 in the first round of the China Open in Tianjin. Ye had eight bogeys and one birdie.
Ye is following in the footsteps of Guan Tianlang, who made history last month when he became the youngest to compete in the Masters at 14. Guan competed at the China Open last year.
Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-day lead at Binhai Lake.
LPGA — Ariya Jutanugarn, 17, shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va. Jutanugarn was 8 under through 16, but had a double bogey on the par-3 17th before rebounding with her ninth birdie of the day on the par-4 finishing hole.
Cristie Kerr, the only-two time winner in the tour’s eight previous visits to the River Course, had six birdies and one bogey in a 66 that put her alone in second place. So Yeon Ryu and Dewi Claire Schreefel shot 67, and a huge logjam at 68 included Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked players on the tour.