CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Just imagine the dinner conversation:
“So, Nick, how was your day?” Webb Simpson might ask.
“Oh, it was OK,” Nick Watney might respond. “An eagle, seven birdies.”
And Simpson might nod his head with approval and say, “I know how you feel. I did that yesterday.”
You can almost picture the wives – Dowd Simpson and Amber Watney – rolling their eyes and laughing. And why not? What has transpired for the first two days of the Wells Fargo Championship is borderline silly fun for Simpson and his houseguest for the week, Watney.
That is, unless you think a combined two eagles, 24 birdies, and 23 under is commonplace stuff for roommates.
“It’s been fun. He’s been a great host,” said Watney, who is staying this week in Simpson’s home just a short distance from the Quail Hollow Club. The PGA Tour colleagues have a friendly wager – high score takes out the trash – and Watney had to figure he was in good shape Thursday when he made six birdies against two bogeys for a 4-under 68. Only thing is, Simpson pitched in for eagle at the par-4 eighth, added six birdies and put up a sizzling 65.
Determined to avoid the dirty chore on Friday, Watney at the par-5 15th hit a 4-iron from 213 yards to 40 feet and slipped home the eagle putt to highlight a scintillating round of 64, a score Simpson could not quite match despite making five more birdies.
“Your house is killing it,” announced Ben Crane when he came into the scorer’s area, watching both Watney (12-under 132) and Simpson (133) give interviews as the two best scorers in the clubhouse. Staying in a rented house not 200 yards from the Simpson home, Crane shook his head. “Tough day for Webb. Poor guy only shot 68.”
Watney said it’s been a relaxing week with the Simpsons. Given the fact that they had the same tee times Thursday and Friday, only on opposite sides of the course, they’ve been able to maintain a civil schedule. More than likely, that will continue for at least Saturday as they’re more than likely going to be paired together in the last group.
Webb Simpson did barbeque on the grill Monday night as the house celebrated the birthdays of Amber Watney and Ellie Day, Jason’s wife. But mostly, the couple has gone out to eat or get some take-home.
As for Simpson’s joke that he might turn down the AC on Watney, the leader just laughed. “He lives there, too, so I don’t think he’s going to turn down the air conditioner on himself.”
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IT’S HIS BIRTHDAY, GIVE HIM A CUP: For a second straight year at the Quail Hollow Club, Rory McIlroy signed his scorecard on his birthday and was told by officials that he was being randomly drug-tested.
Perhaps because he has done it before, or perhaps because he had just shot a rock-solid 68 to push to 6 under 138, the kid from Northern Ireland hardly seem flustered. And, no, he had no plans to celebrate either the birthday or the presumed passing of the drug test.
“Probably just go out for a nice dinner and take it easy and get ready for (Saturday).”
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A SLEEVE BECOMES FISH FOOD: Carl Pettersson refuses to let one hole ruin two solid days or a stretch of play that is as good as he’s ever produced. In his mind, he had a bogey-free second round at the Wells Fargo. Then, a disclaimer: “Except for the 9,” he groaned.
That’s right, a nine. A quintuple-bogey. Three balls in the water and Pettersson was left to bemoan the short, 355-yard, par-4 14th. Sure, he had made the cut at 3 under, “but I’m playing well and it’s disheartening to give back so many on one hole. I mean, a 9?”
Pettersson was 4 under on his round, 7 under for the tournament and bogey-free for the day when he concedes he got aggressive and pounded a 3-wood as far up the fairway as possible at the 14th. He hooked that into the water, took his drop and hit what he thought was a nice sand wedge onto the green. Only that ball caught the slope and slid into the water, then when Pettersson found a spot to drop, he stubbed his fifth shot and that rolled back into the water, too.
“It adds up quickly,” he said.
Falling back to 2 under, Pettersson knew he was on the possible cutline, so he’s proud of the way he birdied the par-5 15th to get to 3 under, then the way he made par at 16, 17 and 18 to make sure he was here for the weekend.
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FINDING SOMETHING: It’s been a struggle of late for George McNeill and he didn’t feel all that well when he went through his practice regimen Tuesday and Wednesday.
But on some of his last practice swings Thursday before an afternoon tee time, McNeill discovered something and he’s parlayed it into trips of 70-68 to get somewhat into contention.
“I wasn’t hitting it very good, wasn’t putting it very good, wasn’t doing anything very good, and last week (T-24 at New Orleans) was kind of smoke and mirrors, as well. (But) I’ve seemed to figure something out. Whatever it is, I don’t know. I’ll just try and keep going with it.”
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A.K. IS A WD – AGAIN: Anthony Kim withdrew before the start of Round 2, citing a soreness in his wrist and elbow on his right arm. Kim, who had opened with a 74, has now been a WD in three consecutive tournaments – after Round 1 of the Shell Houston Open, during Round 1 of the Valero Texas Open, and now here in Charlotte, where he won in 2008.
Once considered to be his chance to return his career to a semblance of its potential, the 2012 season is turning into a nightmare for the 26-year-old. In 10 tournaments he has four MCs, three WDs, one DQ and just $33,960 in earnings.
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HERE’S SOMETHING NO ONE WOULD HAVE PREDICTED: You could have wagered very little money to make a lot of cash had you said Arjun Atwal would outscore his heralded pal, Tiger Woods, by seven over the first two days of the Wells Fargo.
But that is exactly how things have played out – Atwal at 7 under for 36 holes, Woods back in Jupiter, Fla., after shooting level par to apparently miss the cut.
Shocking stuff, because go back just a few months ago and Woods outscored Atwal by a whopping 24 shots when they were paired together for the first three rounds of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. What’s more, Atwal came into the week having made one cut in 10 starts. He’s also broken 70 each day here, after having done so just three times in 26 rounds before this week.
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BE BACK IN A MINUTE: One minute, Jason Day was standing to the rear of the 12th green, shooting the breeze with Nick Watney. Next minute, Day was charging into the woods behind a TV tower.
He said he couldn’t figure out, that perhaps the pollen was getting to him, but Day needed to get away from the green for fear that his sneezing and hacking would disrupt Watney and Pettersson. “It was so bad, I thought I was going to vomit,” Day said. “Couldn’t figure it out.”
Crazy, but it’s almost as if that sudden attack knocked all the bad vibes out of him, because Day rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th, added another birdie at 15, and comfortably made the cut at 4-under 140.
Considering that he came into the week having played just 13 stroke-play rounds in 2012, Day is thrilled to be where he is. He hasn’t played since withdrawing after one round of the Masters “so I can’t expect to hit every shot just right,” Day said, “though my level of expectations are high.”
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CUT TIME: When the afternoon winds kicked up, the greens dried out and the course got far more difficult, it was left for Phil Mickelson to put things into perspective. Having played Thursday morning when Quail Hollow was as soft as anyone has ever seen it, the lefthander had all he could do to shoot 72 and make the cut on the number.
“I haven’t seen this big a change in a golf course (from one day to the next) since Shinnecock in ’95,” Mickelson said, referring to the U.S. Open from 17 years ago.
The tough afternoon played havoc with the cutline. When the morning wave was done, it was generally felt that 2 under would be the cut, but it quickly fell to 1 and for a long while it appeared as if the 18 players who finished at even par – including Tiger Woods – would get in.
But the winds subsided over the last 90 minutes and when it was over, 74 players had made the cut at 1 under or better. Some highlights to the cut drama:
• Kevin Chappell deserves kudos. He slammed his approach from 190 yards to 3 feet to birdie his 36th hole, the demanding par 4 ninth, to make the cut on the number.
• Ken Duke not only birdied the 220-yard par-3 sixth, but also the ninth to make it in on the number.
• Cameron Tringale survived a double-bogey, bogey finish to make it in at 1 under.
• Of the heartache variety, consider Mike Weir. He bogeyed three of his final four holes to miss by one.
• Angel Cabrera bogeyed the 18th to miss by one.
• Garth Mulroy bogeyed three of his final seven holes, including the 18th, to finish level par.
• Chris Stroud birdied 10, 15 and 17 to get to 1 under, then bogeyed the 18th to miss the cut by one.
• But the biggest collapse was delivered by Vijay Singh, who was 4 under through 32 holes when he bogeyed the par-5 15th, the par-3 17th, and triple-bogeyed the 18th to miss the cut by two.
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SHORT SHOTS: Ryan Moore was given a bogey at the par 4 11th when his ball moved after he addressed a 12-inch putt for par. “If you address the ball and the ball moves, you’re deemed to have forced it to move,” PGA Tour rules official Steve Rintoul said. With the penalty, Moore shot 70 and at 9 under he is three off the lead . . . . . Keegan Bradley four-putted from just inside of 10 feet to triple-bogey the par 4 ninth. It was the lowlight of his 4 over 76 that left him two strokes outside the cut . . . . . Both Bradley and playing competitor Bill Haas have missed two straight cuts after having not missed a cut since the start of the season.