Quail Hollow Club’s three finishing holes – better known as the “Green Mile” – are among the toughest on the PGA Tour.
Ask Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney about that.
Yet as perilous as that stretch was for Mickelson and Watney on Saturday during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship, they’re still tied for the lead at 8-under par entering what is forecast to be a rain-drenched final round Sunday.
Concessions to the expected precipitation had already been made by tour officials Saturday morning, when it was announced players in threesomes will begin the round at 6:45 a.m. on the first and 10th tees. The leaders – Mickelson, Watney and George McNeill (who is a stroke back) – will tee off at 8:45.
Two strokes back is a pack of six players, including John Senden, who had the day’s low round of 67. He’s joined by Ryan Moore, Charlotte’s Robert Karlsson, David Lynn, rookie Derek Ernst and Lee Westwood.
Watney’s 1-under 71 and Mickelson’s 1-over 73 both took significant hits on the Green Mile. Watney double-bogeyed the par-3 17th and Mickelson bogeyed No. 16.
Mickelson was the second-round leader by two strokes, and he was confident he could build on his lead if he could tame his unreliable driver. That didn’t happen.
He hit just seven of 14 fairways, and his problem on No. 16 was foreshadowed by a double-bogey on the par-5 15th when he had a two-stroke lead over Watney.
“I was leaking oil and made some mistakes,” said Mickelson. “I would have liked to have tried to increase the lead given the opportunities there with the few holes remaining. But I played poorly coming down the stretch and I’m lucky to have the lead.”
Mickelson’s second shot on No.16 went right, the problem compounded when it hit a woman in the gallery on the head. She required medical attention, but said she was OK. Mickelson apologized and gave her one of his gloves. He continued on, 36 yards from the hole, but ended with a bogey 5.
At about the same time and one hole ahead, Watney was melting down on No. 17. He hit an astonishingly poor shot off the tee, going nearly straight to the right and ending up on a cart path 79 yards from the pin. Unnerved, Watney was penalized a shot and eventually three-putted for a double bogey.
“I don’t know what happened, to be honest,” a visibly embarrassed Watney said later. “I hit it off the heel with the 6-iron and it was obviously a terrible, terrible result. I haven’t done that for a long time.”
Watney recovered to par the 18th. It was an otherwise solid day that included five birdies and two bogeys.
Watney’s playing partner was McNeill, who is just one shot back. He might have a share of the lead had he not bogeyed No. 18. Watching Watney on No. 17 was traumatic for him, too.
“That actually shook me up probably more than it shook (Watney) up,” said McNeill, who has two career victories. “So I had to pay a little more attention on my tee shot and everything else.”
Saturday wasn’t a good day for Rory McIlroy, who began the day three shots behind Mickelson but is tied for 10th at 5 under after a 73. McIlroy struggled with his putter, but seemed to break through on the par-5 seventh.
He whistled a second shot onto the green, where it settled 5 feet from the hole. A moment later, he was walking off with an eagle, one shot behind Mickelson, who had just birdied No. 5.
But that was canceled out on No. 9, which McIlroy double-bogeyed.
It also wasn’t a good day for rookie Scott Gardiner, who started two strokes behind Mickelson. Gardiner, who had missed eight consecutive cuts before Quail Hollow, shot a 4-over 76 that included an eventful bogey on No. 16. He hit his tee shot out of bounds, but it bounced over a fence behind a concession stand and rolled under a beer cart. He’s 3 under for the tournament and tied for 20th.
Rules official Mark Russell said the tour will do whatever it can to get the tournament finished Sunday.
“We have all day to play,” said Russell. “We’ll do anything we can do. We can play in the rain, but we just hope we don’t have a washout.”
Russell said if half the field finishes (and it has been pared to 72 players), the round will be considered official.