CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nick Watney answered what he referred to as a wake-up call at the Wells Fargo Championship by taking the lead.
Tiger Woods might need one after missing the cut.
Watney had gone nine straight rounds on the PGA Tour without breaking 70 and had failed to crack the top 10 in all nine of his stroke-play tournaments this year. He worked hard to change that, and it paid off Friday with an 8-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead over Webb Simpson going into the weekend.
A two-time winner last year, Watney had failed to crack the top 30 in a full-field event this year, and missed the cut in New Orleans for his first weekend off at a tournament since July.
“I think last week was a wake-up call for me,” Watney said. “And I’ve worked really hard these five days leading into this event. I think it just shows I’m making progress. Who knows what’s going to happen this weekend, but I’m really excited for it. More hard work, and hopefully I’ll be in this position a lot more.”
Woods wound up in rare position.
He failed to make a birdie on any of the par 5s or any hole on his back nine, missing a 4-foot birdie putt on his 17th hole with the cut on the line. Woods wound up with a 73 — his eighth consecutive round in the 70s — for an even-par 144 to miss the cut by one shot.
It was only the eighth time in 267 events on the PGA Tour that Woods missed the cut, and the first time it happened at the same place twice — Quail Hollow, where in four trips before the downfall in his personal life Woods had won once and never finished worse than 11th.
“This is one of my favorite Tour stops, and unfortunately, I’m just not going to be around for the last two days,” Woods said.
Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood narrowly avoided joining him.
Mickelson was right on the cut line and facing a scary finish on the par-3 17th over water and the par-4 18th, with a stream running down the left side and trees and trouble on the right. He played both holes perfectly for pars, though his 72 left him 11 shots out of the lead.
Lefty couldn’t believe how much the course had changed from Thursday morning, especially with the swirling wind that made the course nearly tough enough to let Woods back into the tournament. Woods was tied for 85th when he finished. At one point, he was tied for 72nd.
Seventy-four players made the cut at 1-under 143, the first time in the 10-year history at Quail Hollow that the cut was under par.
“I haven’t seen as big a change since like Shinnecock ’95 where it was a whole different course,” Mickelson said, referring to the U.S. Open. “So I played well today. I didn’t get the ball in the hole as well as I would have liked, but I hit a lot of good putts that caught the lip. I hit a lot of putts that just didn’t go in, and I hit a lot of good shots that just didn’t quite go my way today.”
Westwood was outside the cutline until he holed an 18-foot birdie on the 17th and made par on No. 18 for a 72. He will play with Mickelson on Saturday.
Watney was at 12-under 132 and will play in the final group with Simpson, who had a 68. Watney is staying with Simpson, who lives about a mile away. One side benefit from his 64 was that he has a bet with his host that high score takes out the garbage each day.
Stewart Cink, winless since he captured the British Open at Turnberry in 2009, had a 69 and joined Ben Crane (64), John Senden (68) and D.A. Points (68) two shots out of the lead. Ryan Moore had a penalty stroke for his ball moving on a tap-in and had to settle for a 70. He was at 9-under 135.
Senden looked as if he might catch Watney in the lead when he was in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 seventh hole. But his approach went well long and under a tree, and he wound up with a bogey.
Rory McIlroy celebrated his 23rd birthday Friday with a birdie on his final hole for a 68 that kept him in range, just six shots back. McIlroy nearly missed the cut two years ago until an eagle on his 16th hole of the second round allowed to make it on the number. He went on to win the tournament.
Woods won’t have such a chance, though he did have some luck — a bizarre ruling on the par-5 fifth hole in which he never found his ball and didn’t get penalized. His second shot went well left, over the gallery and into the trees. There was a mad scramble to surround the ball, but when Woods arrived, the ball was nowhere to be found.
Rules official Mark Russell spoke to spectators who said they saw it land, and considering the open terrain, determined a fan had taken the ball.
Woods was given a drop with no penalty instead of going back to the fairway for his fourth shot. He wound up with a par.
“There were about five or six people that ran over to the ball, and the next thing you know, we get down there and there’s hundreds of people and no ball,” Woods said. “You saw an area there; there’s nothing there. We looked around for a while, and then Mark came over there and analyzed the situation and what was going on.”
Now if he can figure out what’s going on with his game.
Woods won at Bay Hill to end a 30-month drought on the PGA Tour, and then had his worst performance as a pro at the Masters when he tied for 40th. Next up is The Players Championship, the tournament where he has finished out of the top 10 more than any other.
“Well, it’s frustration,” he said. “I finished, what, 12 back of the lead, and I’m not playing the weekend where I have a chance to compete for a title. I’ve missed my share of cuts in the past, and they don’t feel good.”