By Andrew Both
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Anirban Lahiri took the clubhouse lead as Rory McIroy recovered from a poor start and a case of the hooks to haul his way back into a reasonable position in the Wells Fargo Championship first round on Thursday.
Lahiri reeled off six birdies for a six-under-par 66 in cool morning conditions to set the early pace at Quail Hollow.
The Indian headed Australian John Senden and New Zealander Tim Wilkinson by two strokes with half the field back in the clubhouse.
Defending champion McIlroy, a day after celebrating his 27th birthday, plunged to four over after playing the more difficult back nine first, but he improved on the inward half to card a one-over 73.
Lahiri, in his first full season on the PGA Tour, was delighted to complete a clean round.
"Anytime you have a bogey-free card, it's fantastic," he said, adding that a good round was long overdue.
"I feel like my game's gotten better every week I've played. The standards that I've set for myself, I've played mediocre or average golf the last few months. I definitely feel like I should be competing more consistently.
"The stuff my coach and I worked on after the Masters, when I took a couple of weeks off, it's beginning to come together."
Lahiri, ranked 55th in the world, is the top-ranked Indian and the only player likely to represent his country at the Rio Olympics in August.
While several players from other countries have opted out of the Olympics, Lahiri is enthused about the prospect of competing in Rio de Janeiro.
"I think the Olympics is a huge stage for India in terms of golf," he said.
McIlroy, meanwhile, hit a series of poor tee shots before finally finding his groove late in the round.
"It sort of was a tale of two nines," the Northern Irishman said. "I've been working a lot on the range and I was still in range mode on the front nine. I didn't have my scoring head on.
"I was thinking (too much) about my golf swing and got caught up in that. I need a (bit more) work on the range, because I had a lot of misses left."
McIlroy and the other members of his group, American Rickie Fowler and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, had a bizarre experience on the sixth hole when a member of the gallery threw a golf ball onto the tee.
"Yeah, it was sort of weird," McIlroy said. "That's never really happened to me before.
"It was a golf ball with an ear plug stuck on it, so it was sort of strange. Charlotte's finest (police officers) sorted it out and got him off the property, thankfully."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)