Phil Mickelson was 11 shots worse than his previous round at Quail Hollow. Bryson DeChambeau made an 8 on his 16th hole and headed straight for the exit.
Turns out nothing was as bad as it seemed Friday in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Morning gusts gave way to a relentless wind in the afternoon and had just about everyone trying to finish without too much damage. Former US Open champion Gary Woodland had a 2-under-par 69 in the morning and shared the 36-hole lead with Matt Wallace (67) and Patrick Rodgers (68).
No one in the afternoon could catch them at 6-under 136.
Rory McIlroy will be playing on the weekend for the first time in two months. He shot a 66, and by the end of the day, that was good for a tie for fifth, two shots out of the lead.
As for Mickelson?
Never mind that he followed a 64 with a 75, losing a little focus at the end when different swing thoughts entered his head on holes with water, the wrong kind of ripple effect.
“I’m excited to be in contention heading into the weekend, and I know I’m playing well,” Mickelson said.
DeChambeau had reason to leave. Two balls in the water on the par-5 seventh led to his triple bogey and sent him to a 74. He was just inside the top 100 when he left without speaking. And then the wind arrived, the scores shot up and he made the cut on the number at 2-over 144.
“The hardest conditions I’ve played in a while,” Justin Thomas said after a 73 that included a three-putt double bogey on the par-3 13th. His downhill putt from 18 feet caught a gust so strong it stopped 4 feet short.
“Even the downwind holes were hard,” said Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, who has lived in Texas the last 12 years where he described typical conditions as “windy or windier.” Being used to it doesn’t make it easy, though Ortiz managed a 68, the best score in the afternoon.
That left him in the group at 4-under 138.
Mickelson was in the group another shot behind, determined to put an end to a drought so severe that he hasn’t finished among the top 20 in nine months.
Everything felt and looked so easy when he opened with a 64. This was more of a challenge, particularly late in the round, and Mickelson felt his focus lapsing again.
He hit into the water on the 14th while deciding whether to hit a draw or a cut (he still managed par; his wedge game is still among the best).
After a good tee shot on the par-5 16th, Mickelson wasn’t quite sure what to do with his next one. He pulled it well right of the green, and his high flop shot landed too far and went over the edge. He chipped poorly to about 12 feet and turned what looked to be a sure birdie into a bad bogey.
Two holes later, he found the water on the par-5 17th for a double bogey.
“The back nine, I just wasn’t sharp,” Mickelson said. “I think an example of what I’ve been talking about is on 17, we’re standing over the ball and I’m changing my mind and I’m changing the shot, moving the clubhead a little bit. Instead of backing away and kind of refocusing, I just hit it and I’m not really aware of what I’m doing. So I’ve got to fix that.”
In his mind, he threw away two shots on both the 15th and 17th holes, the difference of a score at par.
“I just can’t keep doing that,” Mickelson said. “I’m optimistic for the weekend, though.
McIlroy started the second round outside the projected cut line. He has not made it to the weekend since Bay Hill two months ago, which is factual and lacking context. That amounts to only three tournaments — missed cuts at The Players Championship and Masters, not advancing from his group at Match Play.
He turned it around quickly, starting with one of his few bad drives. This one on the 14th sailed well to the right of the bunkers, gallery, everything but the mansions just outside the property. He tried to land his wedge anywhere near the green, and just his good fortune, it trundled onto the putting surface and stopped a foot away. That sent him to five birdies over his next eight holes, and right in the mix.
“That was probably the catalyst to going on a nice little run,” McIlroy said.
Woodland was all smiles. He missed the cut badly last week at Innisbrook, called Butch Harmon and decided to go back to his previous coaches, Harmon and Pete Cowen. It didn’t take long for him to feel better. His hip isn’t bothering him and his swing feels great.
Woodland still hasn’t figured out the final stretch, Nos. 16-18, playing them in 3 over through two rounds. But he likes where he’s headed.
“I’ve seen some shots this week that I just haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “The golf swing feels so much better. Confidence has gone way up, which I did not have really in the last year. ... It’s exciting right now.”
Not so excited was Jon Rahm. He made a late charge until finishing with two bogeys for a 70 to miss the cut for the first time in 11 months.
LPGA —Patty Tavatanakit finished with an eagle to take a three-stroke lead over Atthaya Thitikul at the halfway stage of the LPGA Thailand in Pattaya..
Tavatanakit moved to 16 under at Siam Country Club after a 12-foot putt on the par-5 18th for back-to-back 64s. Despite no spectators because of the pandemic, Tavatanakit and 18-year-old Thitikul are playing under high home expectations. A Thai has never won this US LPGA Tour event. Ariya Jutanugarn was second in 2013, and her sister Moriya Jutanugarn runner-up in 2018.
“My driving wasn’t the greatest today, a little bit off, but I feel like I just ignored the fact that I have to make it perfect and play from wherever I hit,” Tavatanakit said.
The 21-year-old Tavatanakit, who became Thailand’s new leading female golfer following her breakthrough win at the ANA Inspiration last month, said she missed playing in front of spectators.
“When I played this tournament years ago, there was a big crowd coming to see us which was a great atmosphere,” Tavatanakit said. “But it’s been quiet these two days. I really miss the fans.”
Thitikul had a bogey on the 17th and signed off with a second-round 67.
“I played pretty well but didn’t make some putts. I need to go straight to the driving range to fix my irons and work on my putts,” said Thitikul, a two-time Ladies European Tour winner.
Thitikul turned professional last year and ended up 2020 as the No. 1 on the Thai LPGA Tour. The LPGA Thailand is her final tune-up before she joins the LET.
“Coming from amateur to pro, I know I still have a lot to improve in my game,” Thitikul said.
Caroline Masson (66) is a stroke behind Thitikul in third. Lydia Ko (67), Gaby Lopez (64), and Nanna Koerstz Madsen (68) are tied for fourth, five strokes behind Tavatanakit.
Champions — Defending champion Steve Stricker birdied the final hole for a 3-under 69 to move into a four-way tie for the lead halfway through the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Ala. Stricker joined Madison, Wisconsin, neighbor Jerry Kelly, Monday qualifier Alex Cejka, and first-round leader Darren Clarke atop the leaderboard in the first of the PGA Tour Champions’ five majors.
Cejka, who made the field as the first alternate when Jay Haas withdrew, followed his opening 68 with a 69 at Greystone Golf & Country Club. Kelly had a 70 and Clarke shot 71 to get to 7 under.
“I’m just grateful for every start I get,” said Cejka, who was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in Germany. “I know it’s tough. There’s only 80 guys every week in the field. So many old great players who are privileged out here to play. And I got to prove myself. And if I have to go back to Monday qualifier or do a top 10 to get me in next week, I will do whatever [it] is necessary to do.”
Stricker had four birdies and a bogey. In 2019, he pulled away for a six-stroke win and his first senior major title. The event was canceled last year.
“I didn’t do anything dumb today, just hung around,” Stricker said. “We’re only halfway home, so we have a weekend to go.
“Someone’s going to probably bust out of this pack, I would imagine. The wind is supposed to switch directions for the weekend, so that will shake things up probably a little bit, too.”
Cejka tied for second at the Chubb Classic after winning the Monday qualifier.
European — Adri Arnaus shot 7-under 64 for the second consecutive day to take a one-shot lead into the third round of the Canary Islands Championship.
The Spaniard had eight birdies and a bogey to reach 14 under for the tournament, ahead of second-place Garrick Higgo of South Africa, who carded a 8-under 63 to stay one behind.
A group of four players was another shot back, including first-round leader Francesco Laporta of Italy, who followed his 9-under 62 with a 68.
The European Tour is back in Tenerife for a second consecutive week in what is the third and final event of the Canary Islands Swing.