5 Things: Cabrera, Mickelson rally at Quail Hollow
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Angel Cabrera rose to the top of a star-studded field at Quail Hollow, thanks to a first-round 66 to open the Wells Fargo Championship. That gives him a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson and Martin Flores.
Here are 5 Things to know about the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship:
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1. PHIL FINALLY FLASHES FORM: Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson came to the Wells Fargo Championship looking to find some form. He missed the cut at his beloved Masters and hasn’t had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since August. And with the looming of the U.S. Open, a tournament where he has been runnerup six times, it was time to get busy.
And he did, quickly, thanks largely to exceptional putting.
“The putter was unbelievable,” the Hall of Famer said after shooting a first-round, 5-under-par 67 that put him one stroke behind leader Angel Cabrera and tied for second with Martin Flores. “It was a great day on the greens.”
On the first 12 holes at a Quail Hollow course that has new greens, the lefthander made six birdies and saved par from 6, 16 and 24 feet. Three of his seven birdies on the day came from 2 feet, the four others from 4-10. He made the 24-footer on No. 11 after driving into trees and punching down the fairway. Phil Golf, they call it.
The score left him in a good mood, delighted that he finally got off to a good start. “I feel like I’ve always been playing from behind (this year),” said Mickelson, who has finished in the top 10 a record seven times here but without victory.
Mickelson hit only five fairways but recovered to hit 13 greens in regulation on one of his favorite layouts. Most important, he gained 3.885 strokes on the field on the greens (according to strokes-gained putting statistics).
He made the first of two bogeys at the par-3 13th, where he missed the green and a 16-footer. After a tap-in birdie on the par-5 15th, Mickelson bogeyed again at the par-3 17th, where he three-putted from 49 feet, including a miss from 4 1/2 feet. He closed by saving par from 9 feet at 18.
Mickelson said he putted so well in part because the ball rolled well on the new greens and because he saw the lines well. It wasn’t because of any mechanical adjustment he has made since the Masters.
“I’m pretty streaky with the putter, as you know,” he said. “I’m usually hot or cold.”
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2. CABRERA LEADS WITH 66: Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, who seems to excel coming out of left field better than any other golfer, made seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch, including four consecutive on Nos. 9-12.
Cabrera, third here in 2010, hit but 11 greens in regulation but shot 66 because of strong work on and around the greens. As he put it after taking only 24 putts, “I played very well on the greens and saved myself on the holes I didn’t play so well.”
The long-hitting Argentine surged up the leaderboard even though he has missed seven cuts in nine Tour starts this season – including at the Masters, where he has won and lost in a playoff. The Duck hasn’t finished better than 43rd this season. But then that’s him, coming out of nowhere on a ball-striker’s golf course, this time on a track that will play host to the 2017 PGA Championship.
He sandwiched his lone bogey with birdies from 18 feet on Nos. 3 and 5, the latter on a chip-in. He two-putted for another at the seventh, then went on his streak at 9-12, where he birdied three times from 4-5 feet and sank a 42-footer from the fringe at 11. Then he saved par from 7-8 feet on the next two holes.
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3. KAYMER MAKES CONSECUTIVE EAGLES: Martin Kaymer made consecutive eagles on the par-5 seventh and par-4 eighth holes en route to a 69. It was the third time on Tour this season that a player has eagled two holes in a row.
The German made a 17-foot putt at No. 6 and wedged in from 67 yards at the next. Interestingly, he sandwiched those eagles with bogeys at Nos. 6 and 9. Afterward, Kaymer talked as much about the several short putts he missed as the eagles.
Kaymer said he told his caddie to keep the ball because “it’s very rare you make two eagles in a row.” He said he couldn’t remember ever doing it before.
Max Homa and Tag Ridings are the others with back-to-back eagles. Homa did it on Nos. 9-10 at the TPC Summerlin in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and Ridings at Nos. 18-1 at Torrey Pines North in the Farmers Insurance Open.
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4. MCILROY MAKES 6 BIRDIES: Playing his first competitive round after falling out of the world top 10, Rory McIlroy made six birdies against three bogeys for a 3-under 69. The key is that he putted better than he had been.
A winner at Quail Hollow in 2010, when he closed with 62 for his first Tour victory, McIlroy said he is “really comfortable on this golf course.” He said he felt he could have “squeezed a couple more (shots)” out of his round but felt anything sub-70 was a good score.
McIlroy got fooled a couple of times by greens that he said were inconsistent in terms of receiving approach shots. Some stopped, some released, he said.
The two-time major winner focused his practice on putting after rolling the ball poorly at the Masters. Holing some putts Thursday, he said, told him he’s working on the right stuff and heading in the right direction.
“I’ve always been a different sort of player, where even if sometimes I don’t putt so well, I’ll still be able to run it under par because I can hit the (par 5s in two) and hit a couple irons shots close,” McIlroy said. “I never felt like I needed to rely on my putting so much.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Flores seeks his first top-10 finish (and sixth overall) since a T-4 at the 2013 John Deere Classic. He has made 10 of 15 cuts this season. “I played fantastic,” Flores said after taking 25 putts. . . . Charlotte native Webb Simpson, who has missed the cut in two of his last three Tour starts, shot in the 60s for just the second time in his last 17 rounds. He’s tied for fourth at 68 with Stewart Cink and Jonathan Byrd. . . . Byrd, seeking his first top 10 since tying for second at the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open in August, says he feels like a new man. That’s because he made enough money by mid-March to keep his card for the rest of the season after starting 2013-14 on a medical extension. “I felt like I was carrying a boulder around,” Byrd said. “It’s freed me up. I feel younger. I was starting to look in the mirror during the medical and starting to think, 'man, I think I’ve aged 10 years.' ” . . . Cink has made 10 of 13 cuts this season but is looking for his first top 10 of the year. . . . Only four of 23 first-round leaders this season have gone on to win. . . . The last four Wells Fargo winners have missed the cut (36 or 54 holes) the following year (McIlroy, Sean O’Hair, Lucas Glover and Rickie Fowler). Defending champion Derek Ernst opened with 73.