CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Martin Flores could not have asked for a better start to the Wells Fargo Championship. A strong finish is what gave him the lead Friday.
Flores started birdie-eagle when he holed out from the 11th fairway, and then he took advantage of two scoring holes late in his second round for a 4-under 68 that gave him a one-shot lead over Justin Rose among the early starters.
Phil Mickelson went the wrong direction with a 75. Rory McIlroy, playing in the afternoon, was headed that direction.
Mickelson was one shot out of the lead when he arrived at Quail Hollow to find cool, calm and perfect conditions for scoring. He wound up missing all the putts he was making on Thursday and walked off the course in the middle of the pack, seven shots behind Flores.
“I can’t believe the difference in putting from yesterday to today,” Mickelson said. “Yesterday, I saw every ball go in the hole. And today I couldn’t get them to fall and was three-putting, which is funny because the greens today were so perfect. … I struggled today. I don’t have any great reason. It didn’t feel far off.
“I just struggled getting the ball in the hole.”
Flores was at 9-under 135, which would be his first lead going into the weekend if it stands. Angel Cabrera, the 18-hole leader who opened with a 6-under 66, was among those playing in the afternoon.
McIlroy was a late starter, too, and hopes of contending quickly shifted to hopes of making the cut. He missed a pair of 5-footers early in his round — a bogey and a double bogey — and then added another double bogey with a shot that sailed well over the fourth green.
Rose played in the same group with Mickelson and fared much better with a 67 that will at least give him a late tee time on Saturday. Rose ended his round with a 10-foot par putts, which made him feel just as good as the four birdies and eagle he made earlier in the day.
“If you hit good shots today, you were going to make birdies,” Rose said. “I hit the ball pretty close to the flag all day actually … so I felt like I could get it going today.”
Flores felt that way from the start.
He converted a simple up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 10th, belted a drive into perfect shape on the 11th and never saw his shot with a sand wedge fall for eagle. The green is elevated, and Flores tries to keep his emotions in check, anyway.
Flores laughed recounting how Scott Tway, the caddie for Brian Harman said to him, “Well, I guess I’ll go pick it up out of the hole.”
“Because I didn’t do anything,” Flores said. “I actually thought the ball stopped. I thought it was long, because it was behind the pin, and I couldn’t see it roll, so I just started walking. I had my head down and I was thinking, ‘That’s a nice shot, let’s go make it.’ And then all of a sudden I heard the cheers.
“It was a great start to the day.”
His only blunder was a three-putt from 30 feet on No. 1 after he made the turn, which gave him a double bogey. But he got up-and-down for birdies on the par-5 seventh and short par-4 eighth holes to take the outright lead.
Brendon de Jonge had the best turnaround. The Zimbabwean, who makes Charlotte his home, figured he would have the weekend off after he opened with an 80. He answered Friday by tying the course record with a 62 that left him tied with Mickelson.
“Strange game,” de Jonge said.
Kevin Kisner had a 66 and was three shots behind. Geoff Ogilvy, rarely in contention over the last year, finally holed some putts and had a 67 that put him in the mix at 5-under 139.
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