CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler own plenty of parallels here at Quail Hollow Club this week. Each won his first career PGA Tour title on this course — McIlroy in 2010, Fowler in ’12. Each has been good but not great this year, at least by their standards, combining to win just one tournament. And each entered this week brimming with confidence, largely based on those parallels, playing the PGA Championship on familiar turf with momentum based on recent results.
As if to only shine a spotlight on these parallels, the PGA of America decided to pair them together for the opening two rounds — alongside Jon Rahm — and what unfolded in their first 18 holes on Thursday afternoon simply led to more comparisons.
Fowler posted a 2-under 69 to trail leaders Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner by two strokes, while McIlroy was three shots further back at 1-over 72, yet their journeys to those scores held a similar path.
After carding birdies on two of his first four holes, Fowler drove into a fairway bunker on the par-4 fifth, hit the lip trying to extract himself from there, then needed three more wedge shots to get onto the green before two-putting. The end result? A triple-bogey.
“A little mental mistake,” he later explained. “I forgot a swing cue I usually think of and missed the drive. Kind of compounded from having that mistake. … Just have to put that behind me and move on.”
McIlroy found his big number later in the round. Cruising along with four birdies and three bogeys through 15 holes, he tried to drive the short par-4 16th with a 3-wood, but instead he watched his ball sail into the adjacent water hazard on the left.
Like Fowler, he compounded one mistake with another, duffing his chip after taking a drop, only able to manage double-bogey.
“I just turned it over too much,” McIlroy said. “In hindsight, the wind was helping a little bit. I probably didn’t need to turn it over to get it there. I just was trying to hit it up the right side. I thought it was the safer shot. If it doesn’t turn, you’re in that bunker on the right and you can get it up-and-down. I just overcooked it a little bit. But that wasn’t the reason I made double. Obviously hit it in the water, but it was the first chip shot, that was the disappointing thing. I still could have made a par from that and moved on. But no, the play, it was the right play. Especially for that back pin. I just didn’t execute it properly.”
There aren’t many situations in which a triple-bogey beats a double, but after the round, Fowler found some positives in his big number over that of McIlroy.
He also found some more of those parallels.
“The good thing with mine was that it was early enough that I had plenty of time in front of me to kind of make up for it,” Fowler said. “With Rory having a rough hole kind of later in the round, it’s kind of a shot in the gut in a way. You do all that work and have a pretty solid round going and then you don’t have much time to make up for the mistake there. So yeah, it just shows you kind of the difference, when you do have something happen early, it can go one of two ways, obviously, but it gives you more time to make up for it versus something that happens late.”
The two of them will again play together on Friday, of course, the past champions at this venue each trying to parlay that knowledge into major championship contention this week.
Through one day, at least, they’re both very much still in the thick of things.
“I just need to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” Fowler said.
“I shoot something in the 60s [Friday], move right up there,” McIlroy added. “So yeah, I’m in it.”
That leads to one final comparison between them: They’re each hoping those positive commonalities continue into the weekend.