Phil Mickelson has figured out the secret to the greens at Quail Hollow. Or maybe he’s just had a lot of good bounces for two days.
Mickelson opened with a pair of 15-foot birdie putts, dropped in a 40-foot putt at the turn and made back-to-back birdies late in his round Friday. He finished with a 5-under 67 for a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Quail Hollow, renowned for pristine conditions, had everything go wrong with spring and wound up with putting surfaces that are mostly choppy with brown patches where the grass has died. Two greens were entirely replaced by sod last week.
Despite that, Mickelson has taken only 50 putts in two rounds. And the most staggering statistic of all? He hasn’t missed from inside 10 feet.
“I think that the greens are putting very, very good, obviously, because I’ve putted them well,” Mickelson said. “But with them being slower, we’re able to putt them aggressively. We’re able to take some of the break out without fear of racing it way by. And I’ve made a concerted effort to leave uphill putts, which has allowed me to putt even more aggressive and play even less break. And that’s made a big difference in my putting.”
For a tournament that already has had six major champions win in the 10-year history, Mickelson is missing from the list. And it’s a title he dearly wants. He was at 9-under 135 heading into the weekend, though there is plenty of star power around him.
Nick Watney played with Mickelson the opening two rounds and looked efficient, going bogey-free on the back nine. He had a 70 and was at 7-under 137, along with George McNeill (68) and Scott Gardiner, the 37-year-old tour rookie who had missed eight straight cuts coming into the Quail Hollow. Gardiner, the first Aboriginal Australian to become a pro golfer, ran off four straight birdies at the turn and had a 67.
Rory McIlroy struggled with the speed of the greens — he felt they were much faster than Thursday — but rallied on the front nine with three birdies for a 71. Lee Westwood twice hit into the water on the par-5 seventh and still escaped with a bogey by making a 25-foot putt. He had a 68. They were in a group at 6-under 138 that included Rod Pampling, the ninth alternate and last man in the field.
Warren JFK graduate Jason Kokrak also is in that group after a second-round 70. Kokrak birdied No. 5 — a hole he eagled on Thursday — and also had birdies on the 12th and 14th holes. His lone bogey came on No. 10, a hole he birdied in the first round.
Today figures to be a busier day than expected. A couple of late bogeys and one double bogey dropped the cut to 2-over 146, allowing more than a dozen players back into the tournament.