CHARLOTTE — Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney share a one-shot lead entering the final round of the 11th annual Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
It’s a good position to be in, considering the expected inclement weather Sunday. But it could have been much better.
A series of shockingly amateurish errors that included a semi-shank, shot out of bounds and a felled spectator over the final four holes kept either player from taking a sizable lead over the rest of the field entering Sunday’s scheduled final round.
“It was some poor play coming down the stretch,” Mickelson said. “I was leaking oil.”
The duo is one shot ahead of George McNeill, who had his own issues down the stretch with two bogeys in the final four holes including the 18th, and two shots ahead of six players. They are Lee Westwood, Derek Ernst, John Senden, Ryan Moore, David Lynn and Charlotte resident Robert Karlsson.
Senden, Moore and Karlsson lifted themselves into contention with rounds of 67, 68 and 69, respectively, and Lynn birdied the final two holes with a chip-in and 13-foot putt for a 71. Five players, including world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, are just three shots back in a tie for 10th.
“You look at the scoreboard and there are a lot of really good players now two or three shots back,” Watney said. “Obviously you’d like to have as much distance as possible. … But big picture, I’m tied for the lead and I would have taken that on Thursday morning.”
The rest of the field may not have an opportunity to catch the leaders.
The weather could have more of an impact on the tournament Sunday than any player.
Sunday’s forecast calls for consistent rain throughout much of the day, especially in the afternoon, and winds of 15-20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph.
“It’s going to be a fun day, kind of like a British Open versus a Wells Fargo,” McNeill said, “but I guess we’ll get out there and figure it out when we get there.”
Because of the expected rain, tee times have been moved up to between 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Sunday and players will tee off in threesomes. If half of the field completes the round, it stands and must be completed in full, regardless of how long that takes. Rain is expected to continue throughout Sunday and into Monday.
Green conditions – some putting surfaces have areas without grass that could become muddy – could force the hand of rules officials and expedite a suspension of play or a playoff for the title between Mickelson and Watney. “I don’t think we want to play these greens when they’re really wet,” Westwood said.
Mickelson was playing the final couple holes with a possible playoff in mind, and managed to save par with a 7-foot putt on the 18th green to maintain a share of the lead.
“I was grinding it out down the stretch because there is a high likelihood that we don’t play tomorrow,” Mickelson said. “It was important that I made the putt on the last hole to be tied for the lead because if that last round is rained out at least I still have a chance.”
Maintaining a share of the lead didn’t come easy for either player.
Befitting scenes from “Caddyshack” rather than a $6.7 million PGA Tour event, Mickelson and Watney gave many in the field reason to head to Quail Hollow on Sunday morning with hope. They dropped a combined five shots to par over the final four holes.
With a one-shot lead at 11 under on the par-5 15th, Mickelson, who is seeking his 42nd PGA Tour win, hooked a drive that came to rest on a down slope on the edge of the rough less than a foot off the cart path.
He attempted to cut a 3-wood around a small tree in his path but it sailed out of bounds to the right. Mickelson dropped near the cart path and pulled off the same shot with his second attempt using a driver, but he missed a 6-foot bogey putt to make double bogey and drop a shot behind Watney.
On the par-4 16th, Mickelson hit a female spectator in the head and knocked her to the ground to the right of the green with an 8-iron from the fairway and the ball bounded down a hill onto a tee that was previously used for the 17th hole. He needed two chips to reach the green and made bogey.
“The second shot [on 15] should not have been a problem. It was a very easy lie to hit the shot I wanted to,” Mickelson said. “… That was a big mistake, and following it with a bogey and pulling it to the right and hurting that lady, that just wasn’t good.”
Watney played the front nine 1 under and birdied holes 10 and 11 to reach 10 under. But after waiting more than 20 minutes on the 17th tee box with groups bunched up, the five-time PGA Tour winner shanked his 6-iron tee shot and still had 80 yards to the hole on a side hill lie near the cart path with the ball above his feet.
He came up short of the green with the wedge, chipped to 7 feet and missed the putt to make a double bogey.
“It was just a disaster of a hole,” Watney said. “I don’t know what happened to be honest. I haven’t done that for a really, really long time. I can’t remember the last time I did that in a tournament, so it was a bit unsettling.
“… If I have any chance of playing well tomorrow, I’m going to need to get past it and come out ready to go or else I’m going to get run over.”
McNeill, meanwhile, realized he was suddenly in the lead while facing a 16-foot par putt on the 18th green, which he missed. He remains in the final group because the field is playing in threesomes.
“I didn’t even know until I was standing on 18 green and looked up and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I’m tied for the lead,’ ” said McNeill, who has two PGA Tour wins. “Obviously I don’t want to make bogey there and drop out, but if we get to play tomorrow I’ll hopefully get that shot back.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.