For nine holes on Thursday, however, there was probably more rust than he expected.
The world No. 3 struggled with a left miss and a short game that appeared a fraction off for an opening nine of 40 that included a three-putt for double bogey at the par-4 18th hole (he started his round on No. 10).
The two-time winner at Quail Hollow Club rebounded on the second nine with four birdies and a 3-under 33 for a 1-over 73 that left him tied for 61st when he completed his day.
“I knew I was going to have to sort of play my way into the next couple of weeks,” said McIlroy, who has missed just one cut in six starts at Quail Hollow. “I started off pretty well today but then there was just some shots where I was thinking so much about the swing rather than actually the shot that I was trying to hit and that was really the problem for the front nine.”
McIlroy said he turned his focus away from the technical swing concepts he’s been working on since the Masters and more toward scoring after making the turn with much better results.
He rolled in birdie putts at Nos. 2 (20 feet), 5 (2 feet), 6 (5 feet) and 7 (4 feet) to keep his hopes for a third Wells Fargo title alive.
“I would much rather be in red numbers [under par] but I'm much happier where I am now than I was three hours ago,” he said. “I just need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good second round, something in the 60s, get myself back into the tournament going into the weekend.”