Wells Fargo Notebook: McIlroy rallies to move into contention

ablondin@thesunnews.comMay 3, 2014 

Wells Fargo Championship Golf


— Does this story sound familiar?

Rory McIlroy makes the cut on the number at 1-over-par 145 at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, shoots one of the best rounds of the tournament in the third round to get into contention and goes crazy on Sunday to dust the field.

That happened in 2010, when McIlroy shot a 66 in the third round and 62 in the final round to win by four.

He set the stage Saturday for a possible repeat performance.

After making the cut on the number at 145, McIlroy shot a 7-under 65 Saturday to move into a tie for 11th at 6-under 210. McIlroy teed off in the third group, and before some of the leaders pulled away a bit in the afternoon he got as high as sixth and was within three shots of the lead.

“I don’t want to get to used to that at this tournament,” said the Northern Irishman, who turns 25 on Sunday. “I would rather be up there after two days, but, yeah, it was good. I played really well, played solid tee-to-green, but the difference was the putting. I holed putts.”

In 2010, McIlroy made up a four-shot deficit entering the final round. The challenge will be more daunting this year, as he is seven behind leader J.B. Holmes.

McIlroy birdied the par-4 first and fourth holes with putts of 6 and 27 feet, the par-4 fifth and eighth holes with a chip to 3 feet and two-putt from 20 feet, and short par-4 eighth with a chip to 3 feet. He made his lone bogey on the ninth for a front-nine 32, then shot a 33 on the back.

He birdied the par-5 10th with a bunker shot to 5 feet, short par-4 14th by driving the green with a 320-yard tee shot and two-putting from 70 feet, and par-5 15th by chipping to 4 feet.

“It’s nice to go out on a Saturday morning and just give it your all and shoot a low one,” McIlroy said. “I had nothing to lose. I hit a few more drivers out there, when I would have hit fairway woods the first couple of days, and just really aggressive, trying to make as many birdies as you can and get back into the tournament.”

McIlroy holed a 9-foot par putt on the 18th hole after nearly hitting his second shot into the creek to the left of the green from a right fairway bunker.

“I remember that [2010] year I bogeyed 18 on the Saturday to shoot 66, so I had a putt on 18 to go one better, so that’s why I gave it a fist pump. I was sort of thinking of that,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy hit 9 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens, and needed just 25 putts. He said he put in some extra work on the practice putting green Friday night.

“I think I figured out what I needed to do out there, and, you know, it was a really solid round of golf and it gets me back into the tournament,” McIlroy said. “Anytime that I gave myself a chance for birdie, the putt either went or looked like it was going in.”

Hanging tough

For his first experience on the PGA Tour playing in a final pairing on the weekend and with at least a share of the lead after 36 holes or more, Martin Flores did just fine, thank you.

Flores carded a 3-under 69 and avoided making a bogey until the 18th hole, where he pulled his tee shot into the creek and took a penalty stroke, yet nearly holed an 18-foot putt for par.

The 32-year-old Texan and Oklahoma graduate made pars on the first eight holes and birdied holes 8, 10, 11 and 12.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever played in the final group and it felt great,” said Flores, who is playing in his 100th PGA Tour event this week. “I was really aggressive. I wanted to go out there and go get it and, you know, I want to do the same thing tomorrow.”

Flores, who displays little emotion regardless of his results, missed the cut in his first visit to Quail Hollow in 2010 and has finished 21st and 38th in the last two years. “Mentally I’ve been patient and comfortable on this golf course. It just seems to fit my eye,” he said. “I don’t know what it is but consequently I’ve driven the ball pretty well and it’s given me a lot of short irons on the greens.”

Home not helping

There are a handful of Charlotte residents playing in the tournament who might have a hometown advantage, and there are two who also have a home-course advantage.

Johnson Wagner and Webb Simpson are Quail Hollow members.

Neither has done too much with their seeming edge in their careers. Wagner has missed four cuts and hasn’t finished inside the top 30 in seven previous tournaments, and he’s tied for 59th at 2-over 218 entering the final round.

Simpson finished fourth in 2012 but that’s his only top-20 in five appearances and he missed his first two cuts. He has played solid this week and is tied for 22nd at 5-under 211 following a 70 Saturday.

“There is a comfort here, familiarity here that before I even tee it up I think helps me,” Simpson said. “I know different wind directions and pin placements. I think it hurt me the first couple years here. I put too much pressure on myself, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself this year. It’s more just I know that, ‘Hey, you know this golf course as good as anybody. So use that to your advantage.’ ”

Simpson gets a taste of what it’s like to be Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods for one week a year on tour.

“It’s nice to have people clapping for me when I go up to the green because I’m not used to it,” Simpson said. “Normally they’re doing it for Ernie [Els] and Phil and Tiger, and it feels great to be home, and I always look forward to this week on the calendar.”

Tour support

Simpson’s veteran caddie Paul Tesori and his family have experienced the softer side of the PGA Tour this year, and Simpson has felt it as well.

Tesori’s son, Isaiah, was born Jan. 4 in Jacksonville, Fla., but developed several life-threatening complications within minutes of birth and was also diagnosed with Down syndrome. Isaiah survived and has quickly gained health, and has also become a popular character on tour.

Isaiah is at his third tournament this year at Quail Hollow along with Tesori’s wife, Michelle. Simpson lives in Charlotte and his wife, Dowd, is a native, so the Tesori family stays with Dowd’s parents during tournament week. Isaiah and Michelle Tesori were also at the Valspar Championship in Tampa and the Masters in Augusta.

“Players who I didn’t think really knew Paul, to caddies, to equipment reps, I mean, I’ve seen people get out of their comfort zones in sorts and be vulnerable and just talk about they’ve been praying for Paul or they’ve been thinking about Isaiah,” said Simpson, who has two young children. “It’s been really cool to see that and be part of that.”

Tesori has seen the support in The Tesori Family Foundation as well. It was established in 2009 to provide donations and grants to community-based programs that focus on underprivileged children – it is now also giving to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville and will be giving to Special Olympics – has experienced a spike in donations from tour-affiliated people and companies.

“The whole golf world, I think, rallied behind baby Isaiah,” Simpson said, “so Paul and Michelle have definitely felt the love and support from everybody.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284. To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

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