Wells Fargo Notebook: Fowler falters with lead entering final round

Rickie Fowler reacts to missing his putt on the first hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Rickie Fowler reacts to missing his putt on the first hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship. AP

Rickie Fowler anticipated taking command of the 14th Wells Fargo Championship early in the final round.

Instead, he faltered early and never recovered enough to be a factor Sunday at Quail Hollow Club.

The world’s fifth-ranked player held a one-shot at 9-under par through three rounds but bogeyed the first and fourth holes to fall out of the lead, and fell a full four shots off the lead with a double bogey on the par-5 seventh hole.

He shot a 2-over 74 to tie for fourth at 7-under 281.

“I didn’t get out of the gate swinging well off the tee, and kind of fought that a little bit through the round,” Fowler said. “So yeah, obviously it sucks. It’s disappointing knowing where my game was at coming into today. I felt really good about being in the final group and getting the job done.”

It's disappointing knowing where my game was at coming into today. I felt really good about being in the final group and getting the job done.

Rickie Fowler

Fowler caught an unlucky break on the seventh with mud on his ball in the fairway, 220 yards from the flag following a 315-yard drive. His second shot sailed to the right and out of bounds, into a neighboring backyard, and he had to drop and hit from the same spot again.

“There was just a little bit [of mud] on there, and I mean I hit the second shot exactly the same except there was no mud on there,” Fowler said.

Fowler, who was seeking his fourth worldwide win in the past 12 months and will defend his title at The Players Championship this upcoming week, finished with three birdies, three bogeys and the double bogey Sunday. “I feel I didn’t make any mental errors today, it was just some tough swings and a couple bad breaks,” he said.

Coming up shy

Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, who have nine major championships between them, both made Sunday runs but in the end began the day too far behind to catch up to the leaders. Both shot 6-under 66 to tie for fourth at 281.

Mickelson is left to lament a quadruple bogey on the par-4 18th hole Saturday, as he finished just two shots out of a playoff.

“My game feels very good, but you need that little something to win and to make a mistake like I made on 18, that’s the kind of stuff you just can’t do,” Mickelson said.

My game feels very good, but you need that little something to win and to make a mistake like I made on 18, that's the kind of stuff you just can't do.

Phil Mickelson

Mickelson made early birdies Sunday on holes 1 and 5 then hit a 210-yard approach to 2 feet for an eagle on the 536-yard par-5 seventh hole to get to 5 under and within four shots of the lead. He bogeyed the eighth, but reeled off three consecutive birdies on holes 14-16.

“I played well today and I’m happy to have come back after yesterday’s 8 on the last to shoot a good round,” Mickelson said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well this week and playing some good golf, and unfortunately one hole is probably going to prevent me from having the success here that I’d like.”

McIlroy got off to a slower start with a bogey on the first hole, but he caught fire with birdies on six out of eight holes from the fourth through the 11th to get to 5 under for his round and 6 under for the tournament. McIlroy was one of three players to drive the 302-yard 14th green, doing it with a 3-wood, and narrowly missed a 20-foot eagle putt, then birdied the 508-yard par-4 16th with a 390-yard drive and wedge to 4 feet to get to 8 under and pull within a shot of the lead at the time.

He challenged the back left pin on the par-4 18th and pulled his shot to the left of the creek to the left of the green and made bogey.

“Anytime you walk off the golf course and shoot 66, you can’t be too disappointed,” McIlroy said. “But I think in the circumstances having a feeling like I had a chance on the back nine to post a number for the guys to at least think about it, I didn’t birdie the par-5 15th, and then the second shot on 18 I was in between clubs and tried to play the shot that I felt had the best chance to get it close and make 3 and paid the price by not making a good swing.”

McIlroy is still seeking his first victory in 2016 and was coming off a three-week break since the Masters. “I’ve seen enough positive signs this week to know like I’m on the right track, and obviously ending the week playing the way I did today gives me a lot of confidence going into these next few weeks,” McIlroy said.

McGirt makes move

A hole-in-one was the start, but it was just the beginning of William McGirt’s early move Sunday.

The Boiling Springs resident and Wofford graduate aced the 187-yard second hole, then added birdies on holes 4, 5, 14 and 15 to reach 6 under for his round and 4 under for the tournament. The ace resulted from a purely struck 6-iron.

“I hit it and kind of flagged it. You know, you hit so many of them like that and they don’t go in,” McGirt said. “I picked up the tee and started walking. I wasn’t even paying attention and I heard my caddie say, ‘Go in.’ I kind of glanced at the hole and just watched it top the hill and go in, you know, roll over the edge, and I didn’t even know what to do.”

The ace is McGirt’s ninth and third in competition. He once made two in one round in a charity event.

McGirt, 36, who is still seeking his first PGA Tour win after 162 starts, made late bogeys on holes 16 and 17 to shoot a 68 and tie for 17th at 2-under 286.

It’s his seventh top-20 finish this year and he was vying for his fifth top-10. He tied for second in the Sanderson Farms Championship in November and is now about 30th in 2015-16 FedExCup points.

“That was a huge letdown because I knew if I could just finish par, par, par I would be close to the top 10,” McGirt said. “If I could sneak one more in, it was definitely going to be a top 10.”

Tough finish

Ian Poulter was the only player in the field to make a birdie on the par-4 18th hole in the final two rounds, marking just the third time on the PGA Tour since 1990 that a final hole yielded only one birdie on a weekend, according to CBS Sports statistics.

The other courses were Augusta National Golf Club in 1994 and what is now the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral in 2004.

The 18th capped a tough finish at Quail Hollow, as The Green Mile, consisting of the final three holes, played .734 over par for the week as the 508-yard par-4 16th played to an average of 4.088, the 17th hole – which played from 230 to 135 yards over the four rounds – played 3.165 and the 493-yard 18th played to an average of 4.481.

No summer vacation

The Wells Fargo Championship is the start of a hectic summer of golf for most of the world’s top players, made busier by a schedule that has been condensed by the addition of the Summer Olympic Games tournament in August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Many players don’t plan to have more than one week off at a time between now and the Ryder Cup in early October.

“The reason that I took three weeks off after Augusta is I’m not going to have more than a week off until after the Ryder Cup,” said world No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who tied for fourth Sunday. “There are so many big events in such a short space of time and trying to be able to get yourself up for them and get yourself as sharp mentally as you possibly can and try to let yourself go back down again and relax for a couple of days and having to build yourself back up again, I think that’s going to be the hardest part about this summer.”

Adam Scott, the 2016 FedExCup points leader, played this past week for the first time since the Masters, which was his sixth event in eight weeks. He had a runner-up and two wins in the first three events of the stretch, then progressively got worse with ties for 12th, 28th and 42nd. Scott is skipping the Olympics to have an extra week off and spend more time with family.

“I had been in contention, I played lots of good golf and it’s not just fatigue but that played a part in my poor performance at the Masters,” Scott said. “My body just didn’t swing the club the same way it was when I was much fresher earlier in that Florida swing and even in Bay Hill and the Match Play. So a lesson learned there. That was probably a little too much to tackle.”

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin