CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Angel Cabrera has made a career of playing sporadically good golf.
His only two career PGA Tour victories are majors – the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters – and he’s had seasons in which he’s had about the same number of made and missed cuts.
It’s often a great week or bust for the Argentinian.
If Thursday is any indication, this may be one of his great weeks.
Cabrera opened the 12th Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club with a 6-under-par 66 and has a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson and Martin Flores. “I had a really good first round,” Cabrera said through an interpreter.
Quail Hollow member and Charlotte resident Webb Simpson, Clemson alumnus Jonathan Byrd and Stewart Cink are two shots back in a tie for fourth at 68, while 2010 Wells Fargo champion Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are among nine players who shot 69.
Cabrera’s good play has been even more sporadic this season, as he has made just two cuts in nine events after managing 16 made cuts in 21 events and a runner-up finish in 2013. He made half and fewer than half of his cuts in 2011 and ’12.
“For two years my game hasn’t been very good, but I’m working hard to find my game again,” said Cabrera, 44. “I hope this tournament will give me the confidence I need to play well the rest of the year. Every week I’m trying to find my game and we’ll see what happens this week.”
Cabrera needed only 24 putts, including just 10 on a back nine that included a hole-out from off the green for birdie on the 11th hole in the midst of four consecutive birdies.
He made an 18-foot birdie putt on the third hole, birdied the par-5 fifth, seventh and 10th holes, and hit approaches within 5 feet on the par-4 ninth and 12th holes.
“I putted very well on the greens, and I saved myself on the holes that I didn’t play so well,” Cabrera said.
Mickelson hadn’t played a competitive round of golf in nearly three weeks since he missed the cut at the Masters Tournament, so he didn’t know quite what to expect from his game Thursday.
Based on his previous first-round performances this year, he couldn’t have expected much.
Though Lefty posted a 66 to open the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in early February, that’s a distant memory as three of his last four opening rounds before Thursday were 74, 77 and 76.
“I haven’t gotten off to great starts, and I was trying to get a good focus to get a good round in on Thursday because I always feel like I’m playing from behind,” Mickelson said. “So to get off to a quick start is really a good sign and what I needed.
“It feels great to get off to a quick start where I don’t feel like I’m playing catch up.”
Mickelson professed on Wednesday to love what the club and course architect Tom Fazio had done to the greens in the past year, lessening some rather severe undulations on many holes in addition to converting all 18 from bentgrass to MiniVerde Bermudagrass.
And his play Thursday displayed his affection for the changes.
He attempted 26 putts and holed five putts of 8 feet or longer, including par putts of 16 and 23 feet on holes 6 and 11 and an 11-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole.
“I made a lot of really good putts today and it covered up some very poor chips, a number of poor chips,” Mickelson said. “The greens, not only are they rolling great but the design is just perfect.”
Mickelson was tied for the lead at 6 under following his final birdie on the par-5 15th, but he three-putted the 17th green from 50 feet for a bogey, and following a putt from the fringe that ran 9 feet past the hole on the 18th, he was in danger of essentially three-putting for another bogey that could have soured an otherwise stellar round.
“Those last three holes are tough, and you just want to finish off the holes with some pars, and I hit some good shots and three-putted the 17th,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t want to end with another three-putt on 18, so that putt felt great.”
Mickelson’s finishes have mirrored his starts this season, as a tie for 12th at the Shell Houston Open is his best finish in 10 events. “It was a good day,” Mickelson said. “I hit a lot of good iron shots and I had a couple of areas I can improve on. My chipping was poor, at best.”
McIlroy, seeking his first PGA Tour victory since September 2012, found the new greens to be inconsistent in their firmness in the first round, which is something the players may adjust to through the weekend.
“There are some that are softer than others but it’s sort of expected with new greens,” said McIlroy, who has finished in the top 25 in all seven starts this season, including a runner-up and four top-10s. “They’re so new that they’re not going to settle at the same time. So I felt like there were a few balls out there stopping pretty quickly and a few that released, so that’s something to be wary of.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.