Rory McIlroy fired a five-under-par round of 66 to move into contention for a third career victory at the Wells Fargo International in Charlotte.
Playing in his first tournament since finishing in a tie for 21st place at The Masters last month, McIlroy shared the lead with American Joel Dahmen.
McIlroy, who earned his first PGA Tour win at the Quail Hollow venue in 2010 before reclaiming the title five years later, shot five birdies to leave himself in contention.
There was also a strong performance from Scotland’s Martin Laird, who shot 67 to sit just one stroke behind McIlroy, in a group which also included former Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Justin Rose’s bid to recover from his Masters disappointment did not go entirely to plan as he sat four strokes behind McIlroy after shooting a one-under-par round of 70.
Rose, who missed the cut at Augusta for the first time in his career, recorded three bogeys in an inconsistent round which looks unlikely to put him in a position to challenge the leaders.
Rory McIlroy was pleased to be back in the hunt for a major title despite ultimately missing out at the Open at Carnoustie.
The former world number one, chasing his first major in four years, finished in a tie for second on six under, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari.
McIlroy slipped back to three under early in his round but powered back into contention on a congested leaderboard, which included a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, with an eagle on the 14th.
McIlroy said: “It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars, Tiger being back in the mix – everything.
“There were a lot of big names up there and it was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win and my mindset was, ‘go and spoil the party here’.
“It was cool, really cool. I have no regrets. I played the way I wanted to play this week and it gives me a lot of encouragement going into the final major of the year.”
McIlroy was left to wonder what might have been after settling for pars on the last four holes but he feels his game is now in good shape.
The 28-year-old said: “I’m happy with how I played. I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back. Just sort of ran out of holes at the end.
“I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done, and the golf that I played, and I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”
The former great believes McIlroy, whose most recent major came in 2014, still has plenty left to accomplish.
And while Player compared the Irishman to Woods, he doesn’t see McIlroy reaching the same heights.
“Unbelievable talent. Maybe even more talent than Tiger Woods had at the start of their careers,” Player said.
“Will he do what Tiger Woods has done? I doubt that.”
See Player’s full comments on McIlroy in the video below.