CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rickie Fowler is starting to hear chatter about why he hasn't won on the PGA Tour. He hopes it won't be long before he no longer has to listen.
One week after he gave himself a chance in New Orleans, Fowler played a clean round of 6-under 66 on Thursday and was part of a five-way tie for the lead among early starters at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Fowler played with such control that he never came close to a bogey. His longest par putt was 4 feet.
''I feel that I'm good enough to win,'' Fowler said. ''I definitely feel like the amount of people expecting or thinking that I can win is a compliment. I'm not too worried about the talk that goes on about when my first win is coming, but it's my main goal, and that's what I'm focused on.''
Fowler was joined at 66 by John Senden, Brian Davis, D.A. Points and Patrick Reed, who earn a spot through Monday qualifying for the second straight tournament. He tied for 24th last week in New Orleans. Nearly one third of the morning wave broke 70.
Phil Mickelson was trying to edge closer to the morning leaders until he hit a tee shot out-of-bounds on the fourth hole and made triple bogey. He recovered for a 71. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played in the afternoon under scorching temperatures at Quail Hollow.
Fowler has been a marketing machine since he turned pro in the fall of 2009 and lost in a three-man playoff during the Fall Series. He has had a few good chances to win, such as the Phoenix Open in 2010 and the AT&T National last year. He did well enough to make the Ryder Cup team as the last of four captain's picks in 2010, and he showed his promise on the last day by winning the last four holes to earn a halve.
He just doesn't have a trophy – at least not on his home tour.
Fowler won the Korea Open last year over McIlroy, and he hopes it will lead to bigger things. And he was motivated last month when he watched good friend Bubba Watson pull off a spectacular shot out of the woods to win the Masters in a playoff.
''I might have been more nervous than he was there,'' Fowler said. ''It was a lot of fun to be there. Obviously, being one of my best buddies ... and having Ben and Badds there as well, just kind of getting to see kind of the moments from outside the ropes and see what was going on coming down the stretch, I definitely took a lot away from it.
''More the feeling that I want to be in that position. Instead of Bubba winning, I want to win. Maybe he'll let me win one soon.''
Watson isn't at Quail Hollow, which doesn't make the week any easier.
The tournament attracted another strong field on a Quail Hollow course rated among the best on the PGA Tour schedule. Without much wind, and with warm weather in the morning, it yielded plenty of low scores.
That's not to say everyone played great, even if they were happy with their scores.
Fowler had a birdie putt on every hole except the par-4 ninth, when he came up just short and chipped to 2 feet. Davis, the Englishman who has never won on tour, hit only six fairways and 11 greens, yet he wound up with the same score.
''I absolutely hit it awful tee-to-green. It was just terrible,'' Davis said. ''I got away with everything. I chipped and putted like hell today, and things go your way. Things like that can make a difference. We'll go to the range this afternoon and try and iron out a few flaws in our swing, but obviously delighted to get in at 66 and build on that momentum.''
The surprise in the group was Reed, a 21-year-old who helped lead Augusta State to another NCAA title last summer. He was trying to Monday qualify for the Texas Open when he was told in the middle of his round he had received an exemption. Then, it was off to New Orleans to Monday qualifying and he moved up the leaderboard with five birdies on the back nine. He made it through yet another qualifier and landed atop the leaderboard.
''This round was all because of the confidence I've had for the past month that's gone on,'' Reed said.
He felt so good that he attacked with driver on just about every hole, leaving him shorter irons into the greens and plenty of birdie chances.
''Whenever you can do that, you feel a lot more confident,'' he said. ''Next thing you know, 6 under and tied for the lead.''
But it's just one round, a long way from winning. Fowler can attest to that as he enters his third full season.
And there was no guarantee it would be enough to stay in the lead. Ryan Moore already was at 5 under with six holes remaining, while Webb Simpson chipped in for eagle on the short par-4 eighth hole and was 5 under.