Wells Fargo Notebook: Quail Hollow continues to torment Mickelson

Phil Mickelson reacts as he misses a putt on the third hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Phil Mickelson reacts as he misses a putt on the third hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship. AP

Phil Mickelson has won 42 PGA Tour events, but some courses or events have his number, and the Wells Fargo Championship and Quail Hollow Club certainly do.

Mickelson is playing in his 13th consecutive Wells Fargo Championship and is vying for his 11th finish in the top 12. That is certainly attainable. As he usually manages to do at Quail Hollow, Mickelson got himself into contention for a title on the weekend

But he’ll still be searching for his first victory at the conclusion of play Sunday.

Mickelson began the third round three shots out of the lead at 5 under and was still on the number and just four shots back following a birdie with a curling 35-foot putt on the par-3 17th hole. But Mickelson made a mess of an 18th hole that has often been his demise – he is 21-over par on the hole in his career – with a quadruple-bogey 8 to fall eight shots off the pace and into a tie for 19th at 1-under 215.

He hit his approach from 160 yards in intermediate rough into the creek to the left of the green, chipped off the green following a drop, chipped back into the rough and two-putted from 7 feet.

PGA Tour events in which Mickelson has competed at least 12 times without winning are the U.S. Open (25), BMW Championship (18), Memorial (15), The Barclays (14), Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (12) and Wells Fargo Championship (13).

The U.S. Open and Wells Fargo have been the most vexing. He has six runner-up finishes in the major that he needs to complete the career Grand Slam, and has finished in the top five on six occasions at Quail Hollow.

Mickelson is also 0-for-19 in the state of North Carolina, including three U.S. Opens at Pinehurst.

Tee shots have been Mickelson’s biggest challenge this week, as he has hit just 16 of 42 fairways off the tee. After scrambling for par 13 of the 16 times he missed the green in the first two rounds, he salvaged par just twice Friday on the six holes he missed the green.

McIlroy sputtering

Rory McIlroy knew he needed to go low Saturday to have a chance at a third Wells Fargo title, and felt it possibly coming on with a second-round 69 Friday.

But as has been the case more often than not in this winless 2016, McIlroy was unable to get the job done, shooting a 1-over 73 to fall into a tie for 19th at 1-under 215. He three-putted the first hole and missed the fourth green for a pair of early bogeys, double-bogeyed the ninth and was 3 over on his round through 15 holes before a pair of late birdies.

I just haven't been playing as efficient as I could be. I feel like everything is sort of there, it's just a matter of putting it all together, and for the most part this year I haven't been able to do that.

Rory McIlroy

“I don’t even think it’s this week, I think it’s been all year,” McIlroy said. “I three-putted the first, I three-putted 11 and I didn’t take some other opportunities that I gave myself. I just haven’t been playing as efficient as I could be. I feel like everything is sort of there, it’s just a matter of putting it all together, and for the most part this year I haven’t been able to do that.

“There’s been spells where it’s been good and I’ve had a couple of chances to win this year, but it’s a work in progress. I’m trying to stay patient, as patient as possible, but there’s definitely times out on the course where I get quite frustrated.”

Coming off a three-week break, McIlroy hopes to improve in Sunday’s final round to take some momentum into The Players Championship.

“I’m maybe a little bit too far back, but at least I can go out there tomorrow and try to give it my all and try to post a good one,” McIlroy said.

On the menu

Daniel Berger is becoming a regular on PGA Tour leaderboards.

The second-year tour member out of Florida State, who turned 23 last month, hasn’t finished outside the top 30 in his last five stroke play tournaments, including a tie for fifth at the Shell Houston Open, tie for 10th in the Masters and tie for 20th last week in New Orleans.

He is tied for 10th through three rounds at Quail Hollow at 3-under 213 following rounds of 68, 71 and 74.

I just feel like I'm in a groove and I'm having fun out there and that's probably why I'm playing so good, because when you're not having fun, it's usually going the opposite way.

Daniel Berger

“I just feel like I’m in a groove and I’m having fun out there and that’s probably why I’m playing so good, because when you’re not having fun, it’s usually going the opposite way,” Berger said.

Reuniting with his caddie, Grant Berry, may have contributed to Berger’s more consistent play compared to the start of the year.

“We split apart for a little bit and I didn’t play that great, and then I got him back and ever since then it’s been just easy,” Berger said. “The Masters was awesome and then after that it’s just been a lot of fun. I look back at how I played at the beginning of the year and where I am now and it’s a great improvement, so I’ll go have some fun and see what happens.”

He had runner-up finishes in his rookie season in the Honda Classic and BMW Championship en route to finishing 11th in 2014-15 FedExCup points. “I’ve been in contention a few times this year and last year as well, so you just try to take everything as a learning experience, move on and get better,” he said.

Berger said he enjoys the more difficult courses on tour, and Quail Hollow falls in that category. “I feel comfortable in these conditions,” he said. “I like it when it’s hard. I like when even par is a good round and I felt that was a good round today.”

Back to work

In order to get over the golf hangover that often occurs coming off the Masters, the foursome of Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman may have given themselves a more traditional hangover to recover from with a spring break trip to Bakers Bay in the Bahamas.

The trip was well-documented in numerous shirtless and shoeless videos and photos on the golfers’ social media platforms, and they are now largely back to work on the PGA Tour.

Fowler returned to action last week in New Orleans and tied for 20th, and takes a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. Kaufman, who has already won in his rookie year out of LSU, also returned last week and shot rounds of 68 and 81 to miss the cut and withdrew earlier this week citing tendonitis in his wrist dating back to the Masters, where he was in the final group on Sunday and shot another 81.

Thomas returned this week and shot rounds of 73 and 75 to miss the cut, and Spieth has yet to play on tour since his disappointing finish in the Masters.

“I know we all had a great time,” Fowler said. “It was probably the proper time to do it coming off the first major and then with the busy stretch coming up and with the summer that we have ahead. I don’t think any of us have really been on an actual spring break, so it was a little guys’ trip. We had a good time and the four of us are all refreshed and ready to go play some golf.”

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin