A six-shot deficit is generally a lot to make up with 36 holes to play.
But for Rory McIlroy, at Quail Hollow Club and with players atop the leaderboard who aren’t accustomed to being front runners, it certainly seems plausible.
McIlroy shot a 69 Friday in the second round of the 14th Wells Fargo Championship to move into a tie for 24th at 2-under 142 and knock some more rust off a three-week break from tournaments play.
He is six strokes behind leader Andrew Loupe, with Roberto Castro, Chesson Hadley and Mark Hubbard occupying the other top-four spots.
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In McIlroy’s two wins at Quail Hollow, he had tremendous weekends. He was 16 under in the final two rounds in 2010 and 14 under last year. Included in those weekends were rounds of 62 and 61. Even in 2012 and 2014 he was 8 and 9 under on the weekend, respectively.
“I think I was 9 back going into the weekend in 2010, and even last year I think I played a 14-under weekend,” McIlroy said. “If I get off to a fast start tomorrow like I did today, then I'll be right there back in the tournament.”
McIlroy made a mid-round run Friday that quickly moved him from 1 over to 4 under, beginning with a chip-in for eagle from 82 feet in the rough on the seventh hole, followed by three consecutive birdies on holes 8-10.
He was still 4 under before making bogeys on the final two holes, leaving a chip shot 16 feet short of the hole on the par-3 17th and finding the creek to the left of the green from the rough on the par-4 18th.
“Obviously it’s not nice to finish the way I did with two bogeys but the rest of the card looks pretty good,” McIlroy said. “I got it going around the middle of the round there and hit a lot of shots of much better quality than I did yesterday. It felt a little better for me out there today. It's a step in the right direction.
“It's definitely better than it was yesterday and hopefully tomorrow is a little bit better than it was today.”
One down, one to go
Aiken native and resident Kevin Kisner has one of his two pressing issues resolved.
He says his suspension from the private Palmetto Club in Aiken has been lifted, so that’s taken care of.
Now the 2006 Georgia grad needs to get his golf game back on track.
Kisner was a runner-up in playoffs three times last year in the RBC Heritage, Players Championship and Greenbrier Classic. Continuing his momentum from the 2014-15 season, he finished second in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China then won the RSM Classic for his first PGA Tour win in November early in the 2015-16 season.
But the success hasn’t continued into 2016.
Since a tie for fifth in the Sony Open in mid-January, Kisner has just one top-30 finish in eight events and has now missed three cuts in that span after shooting 3-over 75-72–147 in the first two rounds at Quail Hollow.
“I’m playing pretty terrible,” Kisner said. “The last couple months have been pretty poor. I’m not scoring well and not giving myself enough chances to score well.
“I didn’t drive it good all week this week and it just played so long I didn’t drive it good enough to score. So I’ve got a lot to work on. I’ll go do that this weekend and get ready for [The Players Championship] next week.”
Kisner doesn’t believe he needs to do anything drastic to improve his results.
“I just need better scoring,” he said. “If you miss a green get up and down, when you hit it to 20 feet make them. I’m not doing that. That’s when golf seems easy. When you don’t get it up and down and miss all your 20-footers golf seems really hard. It’s just all momentum and knowing things are going to go well instead of hoping they go well.”
Regarding his suspension at Palmetto Club, which occurred after he and a few friends and members filmed a pre-Masters video at the club in which they drank beer, raced golf carts and generally had a good time, Kisner said all is well.
He said he has been playing and practicing at the club since he was a child and is building a house on a fairway.
“I’m back in,” he said. “It was short-lived after we had a few discussions and cooler heads prevailed, I think. I haven’t been there, but I’m allowed in. It was super odd. I was totally blindsided by it. I think we’ve learned and we’ll move past it.”
Piller of strength
Martin Piller was the last man into the field as a replacement for Rory Sabbatini, who withdrew before his afternoon tee time, giving Piller only about 45 minutes of notice before he teed off.
The 30-year-old has taken advantage of his opportunity, shooting a 69 Thursday followed by a 72 to enter the weekend tied for 13th at 3-under 141.
Piller began the week as the sixth alternate, but by Thursday he was at the top of the list. He waited out the morning wave Thursday, then went back to his hotel before returning for the afternoon. “There were kind of rumors that Sabbatini was going to withdraw so I was kind of hanging around that tee time, and yeah, that ended up happening,” Piller said.
Two starts ago, Piller recorded his first top-10 on the PGA Tour with a tie for fourth at the Valero Texas Open then missed the cut last week in New Orleans. A tie for 24th in the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West is his only other finish inside the top 60 in 11 previous events this year.
Piller, from Dallas and Texas A&M, didn’t do much on his first season on the PGA Tour in 2011 and returned this year after winning twice on the Web.com Tour in 2015.
He has some competition in his household. His wife, Gerina, is a member of the LPGA Tour and has risen to No. 17 in the women’s world rankings despite being winless with four consecutive top-six finishes and six straight finishes in the top 13.
With Sabbatini’s withdrawal, only J.J. Henry and Charles Howell III have participated in all 14 Wells Fargo Championships since the inaugural tournament in 2003.
Henry shot 75 in the opening round then withdrew, and Howell shot rounds of 76 and 72 to miss the cut. Combined they have six top-20s and 11 missed cuts at Quail Hollow, each with a top finish of a tie for seventh.
Zac Blair was disqualified Friday after using a non-conforming club on the fifth hole – his 14th hole of the day. The putter was fine until Blair hit himself in the head with the shaft.
Not realizing he had slightly bent the shaft, he then putted out with the putter. He noticed the damage on the next hole and was immediately DQ’d while at 7 over and likely headed for a missed cut.
Blair explained himself and his DQ with a statement on Twitter. He said: “Missed a putt on hole #5 and I hit my putter against my head, and proceeded to tap in for par. I noticed the putter on the next hole and went over to the official to let him know about the situation. I informed him I proceeded to finish out for par on hole 5 with my putter.”
Blair vows to learn from the situation. “Going forward I’m going to do my best to not let my emotions get in the way out on the golf course, and I’m going to learn from this mishap and move on,” he added.
A weekend off
Players who failed to make the cut to the weekend at 1-over 145 included Kevin Streelman, whose tour-best active streak of 13 consecutive rounds of par or better came to an end Friday with a 75, world No. 6 Henrik Stenson, Quail Hollow member Webb Simpson, Monday’s Zurich Classic winner Brian Stuard, and Jim Furyk, who returned to action this week after a seven-month break due to an injury.
Others missing the cut included Bill Haas, Ryan Moore, Kyle Stanley, Ben Martin, Bryson DeChambeau, Charles Howell III, Geoff Ogilvy, Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III, who missed his first 36-hole cut in 11 PGA Tour events this season after shooting an 82 Thursday.