CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy’s return to the PGA Tour after his final-round Masters meltdown didn’t last long, guaranteeing the Wells Fargo Championship will have a new winner.
The defending champion shot an even-par 72 on Friday at Quail Hollow and missed the even-par cut by three strokes.
“Disappointed that after all that happened last year, not to be here for the weekend. But that’s golf,” said McIlroy, who shot a course-record 62 in the final round a year ago to win by four shots. “I’ll go home and do some hard practice over the next few days and try to get ready for the next event.”
McIlroy, who turned 22 Wednesday, shot an 80 on the last day at Augusta to lose a four-shot lead. He struggled with his ball striking on Thursday, and a day later his putter let him down.
“I gave myself a lot of opportunities,” McIlroy said, “I just wasn’t able to take them.”
There were moments late in the round when it appeared McIlroy might pull off a similar feat as a year ago, when he was two shots over the cut line with three holes to go. An eagle on No. 7 allowed him to make the cut on the number. Then came weekend rounds of 66 and 62.
“I know better than most people that you just have to be around on the weekend and be able to make something happen,” he said. “I was just trying to get in there, trying to get to the weekend.”
McIlroy got within one of the cut line with a birdie on 15 and then lipped out a 40-foot birdie putt on 16. After three-putting the 17th for bogey, he knew he had to make eagle on the final hole.
“I basically needed to hole by second shot on the last to have any chance,” McIlroy said. “I went for the pin and just came up a bit short and in the creek. Obviously, not what I wanted.”
MICKELSON’S PRAISE: While Phil Mickelson created a stir a year ago when he criticized the greens at Quail Hollow, he’s a big fan of the course layout.
He’s also in his familiar spot near the top of the leaderboard.
Mickelson shot a 6-under 66 on Friday to move within three shots of leader Pat Perez.
“I love the way the course is set up,” Mickelson said. “I love the way there’s a first cut. There’s a lot of opportunity for recovery. When you do miss the fairway, even though you’re in trees and you have a tough shot, you still have an opportunity with a decent lie.”
In seven previous appearances, Mickelson has five top-10 finishes. He finished second behind Rory McIlroy last year and is again in contention for his first win in Charlotte.
“It’s going to be a fun weekend,” Mickelson said.
HAAS AT HOME: Bill Haas knows he’s biased about the Wells Fargo Championship, but it hasn’t stopped him from repeating the line all week.
“It’s just probably our best event outside the majors,” Haas said.
Growing up two hours away in Greenville, S.C., Haas played Quail Hollow multiple times with his father, Champions Tour star and club member Jay Haas.
Haas continued to make trips to Charlotte while a student at nearby Wake Forest.
The institutional knowledge seems to be paying off after rounds of 64 and 70 left him two shots off the lead.
“I’ve got a lot of good friends here, a lot of Deacon fans here,” Haas said. “I’m hearing ‘Go Deacs’ out there a lot, which is nice.”
The only thing to make it better for Haas would be to get his third career win Sunday.
“Outside of the majors, this would be my No. 1 tournament to win,” he said. “Just because of the people involved with the tournament. When I walk in the clubhouse, everybody I see I know.”
DIVOTS: Vijay Singh, the 2005 winner, fired a 68 Friday to move within four shots of the lead. “It’s been a while since I struck the ball this good,” said Singh, winless since 2008. “I’m really excited.” … Davis Love III’s 69 left him seven shots back and ended a streak of three straight missed cuts on the tour. “I’m just happy being on the other side of it, looking at the leaderboard rather than driving home,” he said. … Bryan Bigley, a groundskeeper at a nearby club who qualified for the event Monday, shot 78-76 to miss the cut in his PGA Tour debut. … Storms moved through the area late in the morning, causing a delay of nearly 90 minutes, but Bigley and his last group still completed the round before darkness set in shortly before 8:30 p.m.