Andrew Loupe held up well with a share of the first-round lead.
Now he’s in unchartered territory on the PGA Tour.
The 27-year-old Louisiana native and LSU graduate in his third year with PGA Tour status takes his first lead into a weekend after shooting a 1-under 71 Friday at Quail Hollow Club for an 8-under 136 in the 14th Wells Fargo Championship.
“There’s just so much golf left, that’s far away. Sunday’s a long way away,” Loupe said. “So I’m just going to try to do everything I can to give myself the best chance heading into [Saturday].”
Loupe, one of the tour’s longest hitters, holds a one-stroke lead over Roberto Castro, who shot the day’s low score with a 6-under 66, and is two strokes ahead of Chesson Hadley and Mark Hubbard.
The three players closest to Loupe on the leaderboard have one combined PGA Tour victory.
Castro and Hubbard are winless in a combined 162 tournaments, and Hubbard is still seeking his first top 10 in his 47th PGA Tour event. Hadley’s only win came in the 2014 Puerto Rico Open, which has a watered down field as it’s played concurrently with the WGC-Dell Match Play.
But after a quiet day Thursday for most of the tournament’s top-ranked players, several of golf’s bigger names and players with a successful track record at Quail Hollow made moves Friday to become factors in the tournament.
Phil Mickelson, who has six top-five Wells Fargo finishes, backed up an opening-round 69 with a 70 to move into a tie for fifth at 5-under 139.
Rickie Fowler, the fifth-ranked golfer in the world and the 2012 Wells Fargo champion, moved into a tie with Mickelson and four others at 139 with a 68. World No. 10 Justin Rose, who finished fifth at Quail Hollow last year, shot his second consecutive 70 despite making a double bogey on the 18th hole for the second consecutive day and is tied for 11th and four back, and world No. 3 and two-time Wells Fargo champion Rory McIlroy shot a 69 that included a pair of closing bogeys and is six shots back at 2-under 142.
“I’m in a good spot,” Fowler said. “I made a good par putt at the last [hole] to kind of keep me within reach definitely going into tomorrow and we’ll see if we can get a bit closer and I don’t know, maybe out front. It just shows you how tough it was playing out there, no one really ran away.”
Fowler made five birdies – three in a row on the front nine and two on his final five holes – and one bogey. He holed a 13-foot putt after chipping from the right rough on the 18th to remain three shots back. His 68 included a pair of missed putts inside 5 feet – a birdie putt on the fifth hole and par putt on the 13th.
“I almost went bogey-free around here, which would have been nice today,” Fowler said. “I love this place, just the feeling, the fans, the Charlotte area. I mean, it’s got a good vibe to it, it’s fun. And then there’s the bonus of having won here and played well here before.”
First-round co-leader Steve Wheatcroft is among the six players tied for fifth at 139.
After playing bogey free with seven birdies on Thursday, Loupe made four birdies and three bogeys Friday, including one on the eighth hole that was the result of his second consecutive three-putt green. “I definitely let some shots slip where I know that I probably shouldn’t have,” Loupe said, “but I thought I did a good job of not letting it get to me, whereas in the past it would have and I was able to bounce back.”
Loupe recorded a career-best tie for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge in late January, and his three top-10s all came in his first six starts this season. He’s coming off consecutive missed cuts in the past two weeks.
This week is the first time in 54 PGA Tour starts in which he’s held a 36-hole lead, though he held up relatively well when he was second after 36 holes in the 2014 Valero Texas Open, where he finished fourth. It was the second time this year he held at least a share of an 18-hole lead.
“Experience is always nice,” Loupe said. “I’ve been in this position before, so I guess it’s something I can draw off of, think back and learn from mistakes that I’ve made and hopefully keep it clean out there.”
Loupe missed the cut in his only previous Wells Fargo start with a 3-over 147 in 2014.
Castro’s 66 included just the third eagle on the 490-yard 18th hole in tournament history, as he holed out with a 5-wood from 221 yards in the rough.
“It’s a brutal hole,” Castro said. “… If there was a nice layup area to hit it 60 yards from the green I might have laid up. But there’s no good option there other than just go for it. So we pulled 5-wood and it came out right at it and I thought it might jump over the back of the green but everybody’s arms went up and that’s always a good sign.”
Castro added seven birdies and three bogeys in an eventful round. “A few crazy things happened out there, but overall I had a lot of opportunities so it was good to put a good score on the board,” Castro said.
Increased wind in the second round made scoring challenging, as the average score increased more than half a stroke to 73.2 from 72.6 on Thursday. The course is still relatively soft so par-4s in particular are playing long.
“It was a battle, that’s for sure,” Fowler said. “Scores were out there but it wasn’t easy. You had to manage the golf course well and you were going to be forced to make some 5- to 10-footers to keep the round going, and that’s tough on these greens. There’s quite a bit of slope and you add the wind as a factor, it becomes a bit dicey.”
The course should firm up on the weekend with warm and sunny weather forecast.