Saturday on the PGA Tour is commonly referred to as Moving Day. And that was especially true for Saturday’s third round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Rory McIlroy went out early and carded a morning, 7-under 65 at Quail Hollow Club to go from making the cut on the number and into a tie for 11th at 6 under. Phil Mickelson nearly tied the course record, shooting 9-under 63 and grabbing sole possession of third place at 11 under.
And J.B. Holmes carded a 66, capped by a birdie on the 18th hole, to take the 54-hole lead at 13 under. He leads Martin Flores by one shot entering Sunday’s final round.
Here’s 5 Things you need to know from Saturday’s third-round action in Charlotte, N.C.:
• • •
1. PHIL PUTS IT ALL TOGETHER: Phil Mickelson said after his second-round 75 Friday that his game didn’t feel too far off. He was right.
Mickelson fired a third-round, 9-under 63 to grab the clubhouse lead Saturday afternoon at Quail Hollow before ending up in solo third at 11 under by day’s end, two shots back of leader J.B. Holmes.
“It just kind of clicked today,” Mickelson said. “Sometimes the ball just goes in the hole and sometimes it doesn’t. I didn’t feel like I was far off after yesterday’s round. I didn’t walk away very discouraged. I felt like I was pretty close, and I just came out today with a new energy and a new excitement, and was able to put together a good round.”
Mickelson opened with two pars before catching fire on the front nine. He birdied Nos. 3-6, eagled the par-5 seventh and added another birdie at the par-4 eighth. His birdies at Nos. 4 and 6 came on putts from just less than 40 feet, birdies that Mickelson called, “bonuses.”
“It was exciting for me, because that front nine, everything was going right,” Mickelson said. “I was hitting good shots and capitalizing on the putts.”
Still searching for his first top-10 finish of the season, Mickelson is more than pleased heading into Sunday’s final round, where he’ll play in the penultimate group alongside Kevin Kisner. This is the longest he’s gone into a season without a win since 2003.
“It’s been an interesting year and I felt really good the last four to six weeks,” Mickelson said. “And my game has been sporadic, where some parts of my game have felt good and some parts haven’t. So, today I was able to put them all together.”
• • •
2. HOLMES, SWEET HOLMES: Last year at this time, J.B. Holmes was at the Kentucky Derby. He was coming off ankle surgery, which would keep him out the entire season.
A year later, and on the same day as this year’s Derby, Holmes finds himself the 54-hole leader at Quail Hollow.
“It’s been a big change since last year,” said Holmes, who also had arm surgery for tennis elbow last summer and began the year competing on the PGA Tour via a medical extension.
“It was kind of the beginning of a long comeback. . . . I worked really hard in the offseason and the year off that I had and tried to improve my game.”
Holmes added of the break: “I had been playing a lot of golf and I was in a bad mental state not shortly after I broke it. I thought it might be the best thing that could happen to me. It gave me a year off from golf. I got to spend time with family and friends, and did a lot of rehab, so it wasn’t all vacation, but it was nice to get away from it a little bit.”
This week, Holmes’ hard work is paying off. Holmes shot 6-under 66 Saturday, capping his round with 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe at the 18th. Holmes also birdied all four par 5s.
At 13 under, he leads by one shot over Martin Flores, who will be paired with Holmes in Sunday’s final pairing.
Holmes hasn’t won since the 2008 Phoenix Open, but he no longer has to worry about his status for the rest of the season after securing his card with a T-11 finish at the Zurich Classic, his third straight finish of T-18 or better and fifth top-25 showing of the season.
“Anytime you get a chance to win a tournament, it’s a great tournament, and you feel good because this is what you work to get to, and I’ve worked hard to get here and just going to enjoy it,” Holmes said. “I’m happy to be here and looking forward to playing tomorrow.”
• • •
3. BOGEY FINISH FOR FLORES: When Martin Flores stepped on the 18th tee, he was tied for the lead at 13 under with clubhouse leader J.B. Holmes. He had avoided making a bogey through 17 holes, sprinkling in four birdies, including three straight from Nos. 10-12.
But then one wayward drive hurt his chances of holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. Flores hit his tee ball left and into a small creek. After taking a drop, he was able to find the green and give himself a good look at birdie.
But his par save from 18 feet couldn’t find the hole, and the former Oklahoma Sooner had to settle for a 3-under 69 and second place entering the final round.
“I didn’t even know where I was (on the leaderboard),” Flores said. “I knew I was playing well, but, you know, I just didn’t think the leaderboard was important, and I hooked it in the water. Hit a great approach after that, and I gave myself a look at 4, and I was happy.”
Now, Flores, one shot off the lead, will have the best chance of his career to capture his first PGA Tour title. He finished one shot out of a playoff at the John Deere Classic last year, which Flores called the closest he’s come to winning on Tour.
“Why not me? You know?” Flores said of the possibility of becoming a first-time PGA Tour winner. “I’ve been working really hard, feeling great about my game. I’m going to go out there and attack.”
• • •
4. STELLAR PAIR: Rory McIlroy’s 65? Impressive. Phil Mickelson’s 63? Even better. Two 66s in the same pairing? Well, those weren’t bad, either.
Pat Perez and Mark Wilson combined to shoot 12 under Saturday at Quail Hollow. Both used their 66s to get to 6 under overall, too.
“Me and Mark were feeding off each other,” said Perez, who went bogey-free with six birdies.
Said Wilson, who recorded seven birdies and just one bogey: “It’s nice when you feed off someone like that, and we got off to good starts, both of us, and kept going.”
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: The good news for Martin Flores, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Kisner, and the other contenders? The 54-hole leader has won the Wells Fargo Championship just three times in 11 tries and not since 2008. The average fourth-round score for 54-hole leaders since 2009? It’s a robust 74.33. . . . Last time J.B. Holmes had a third-round lead he shot 76 and finished T-13 at the 2010 Valero Texas Open. Before that, he had protected 54-hole leads to win at TPC Scottsdale in 2006 and 2008. . . . Bit of dubious news for Gary Woodland: He was the only one in the field of 73 to bogey the par-5 fifth, which yielded two eagles and 32 birdies, and 38 pars, and an average of 4.521. . . . After having birdied seven of eight par-5s the first two days, Angel Cabrera made just one in a third-round 75 that saw him crash from T-1 to T-11. . . . The field average of 71.137 included a 63, a 65, three 66s, and two 67s. . . . Bill Haas was 5 under for his first eight holes, but 3 over for the next 10. . . . Rickie Fowler has made just four birdies in 54 holes. . . . Justin Rose has made one eagle each day – the par-5 fifth Thursday, the par-5 15th Friday, the par-5 10th Saturday.