CHARLOTTE — Scott Gardiner said he expected “agony” this week in the 11th annual Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
And who could blame him, considering he entered the tournament off eight consecutive missed cuts during his rookie year on the PGA Tour? “Have you seen my resume this year?” Gardiner cracked.
But instead of being below the cut line, his name is near the top of the leaderboard through two rounds. He’s tied for second and two shots behind leader Phil Mickelson at 7-under 137 following a 67 Friday, and is a shot ahead of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood in the chase for the $1.2 million winner’s check.
“It’s nice to be in the same tournament as they are, that’s my first thought,” the affable Gardiner said. “Probably nobody’s more surprised than I am. … It’s going to be a thrill. I’m sure I’ll play with some great players in the next couple days.”
Gardiner, 37, likens his appearance on the leaderboard to something out of “Happy Gilmore.” Yet he’s maybe an even more unlikely golf success story than the outrageous character played by Adam Sandler. He’s the first player of Aboriginal descent – indigenous Australians – to have full status on the PGA Tour, and few have even attempted to make golf a career. His mother is Aboriginal and his father is Scottish.
He benefitted from a national Aboriginal sports organization program he said was called “The Hunt for the Australian Tiger,” as well as Australian Institute of Sport program. The two combined to provide training and travel expenses to tournaments, among other benefits.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities because of my heritage,” Gardiner said. “It was a great leg up for me to chase my dream.”
Gardiner spent eight consecutive years on the Web.com Tour. He finished 22nd on the 2012 Web.com money list to earn PGA Tour status as a top-25 earner after finishing inside the top 30 on three previous occasions, including 26th one year.
He tied for 15th in his PGA Tour debut in the Sony Open in Hawaii. “I got a false impression,” Gardiner said. “These guys are good. I’m not going to lie.”
He managed to make two of his next three cuts with finishes of 73rd and 50th. But he failed to break 70 in 18 consecutive rounds prior to Friday, and said his short game has been lacking. “It’s nice to make [a cut]. My wife will be happy,” Gardiner said. “I feel I’ve been getting better each week. I just haven’t been saving any shots around the course.”
His bogey-free 67, which matches the best round of the week, included four consecutive birdies on holes 6-9. “It was great to keep a bogey off the card out there because we all know how good a golf course it is,” said Gardiner, who has lived in Arkansas since 2007 and met his wife there at a concert while he was in town for a tournament.
He believes he has the gumption to rise to the occasion this weekend. “Playing in the last few groups … the adrenaline is pumping and you do things that you’re not normally capable of doing,” Gardiner said. “For me, most of the time, that’s been a positive. I would like to do it more.”
Last man in
Australian Rod Pampling began the week 10th on the Wells Fargo alternate list and was in Athens, Ga., as late as noon Wednesday, prepared to play in the Web.com Tour event there.
But the rash of player withdrawals largely attributed to the condition of Quail Hollow’s greens gave Pampling a potentially more lucrative opportunity, and he’s making the most of it.
The two-time PGA Tour winner in 295 events – the last being the 2006 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – shot his second consecutive 3-under 69 Friday and is tied for fifth at 6-under 138, three strokes behind Mickelson. “I’m more than happy to take any opportunity I can get,” Pampling said.
He nearly got into the field Monday, but lost in a four-hole playoff in the Monday qualifier before driving to Athens on Tuesday. He was next on the alternate list by noon Wednesday so he headed back to Charlotte in the hopes one more player would withdraw. “My caddie is local so he knows the road,” Pampling quipped.
Ben Crane’s withdrawal Wednesday afternoon opened the door. “Once you’re the first alternate I figured I’m coming back anyway,” Pampling said. “I just hoped that someone pulled out.”
Pampling has made three of six cuts in 2013 and is coming off a season-best tie for 42nd in last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Queen City contenders
There are a number of players who have moved to Charlotte in recent years who would get extra satisfaction from winning this week.
They include reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Johnson Wagner, Brendon de Jonge, Robert Karlsson and Martin Laird.
They all entered the tournament this week, and the Charlottean with the best chance to earn a victory this weekend is Jason Kokrak, who grew up in Ohio and moved to Charlotte about five years ago to play on the eGolf Tour.
Kokrak shot a 2-under 70 Friday and is tied for fifth at 138 at Quail Hollow, which is just a handful of miles from his home.
“I’ve got a lot of family and friends that are coming into town,” said Kokrak, 27, who attended Xavier. “It’s nice, it’s relaxing and I get to have dinner at some of my favorite restaurants, sleep in my own bed, be home and hang out with my dogs and my girlfriend.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend and competing in front of my hometown crowd.”
Kokrak has a pair of top-10s this year and tied for second in last October’s Frys.com Open as a PGA Tour rookie.
A short week
The cut line fell at 2-over 146, and 84 players qualified to play the weekend. That number will be cut to the low 70 and ties following Saturday’s third round.
Among the 15 players making the cut on the number at 146 were Bishopville native Tommy Gainey, Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa. McIlroy won the 2010 title from the cut line by playing the weekend 16-under par.
Pinehurst club pro Kelly Mitchum was one shot ahead of the cut following a birdie on the 15th hole, but he doubled the 16th and bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes to miss it by three shots.
Other notables missing the cut were Nicolas Colsaerts, Rory Sabbatini and 2009 champion Sean O’Hair at 147, Bubba Watson – who tied for second at Quail Hollow in 2009 – and Martin Kaymer at 148, Coastal Carolina alum Tom Gillis, Bill Haas, Chad Campbell and Camilo Villegas at 149, Henrik Stenson at 152 and Padraig Harrington at 155. Harrington experimented with a belly putter in the first two rounds.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.