Through 34 holes, Rory McIlroy was a lock to be in the weekend mix at the Wells Fargo Championship. In truth, a sentiment was true the moment he set foot on the property, as the Ulsterman boasts two wins and six top 10s in eight tournament appearances.
But while McIlroy’s name will factor into the Charlotte proceedings come Saturday and Sunday, the 30-year-old will be attempting to make a charge rather than fending one off thanks to a disastrous double bogey-bogey finish on Friday.
“Obviously disappointing,” McIlroy said after Round 2. “Played some really good stuff today. I probably played better today than I did yesterday in terms of how I hit it off the tee ball-striking wise.
“It’s a funny game. I stood up here last night talking about that I got the most out of it yesterday and today it was the complete opposite.”
McIlroy entered Friday as a co-leader following a first-round 66, a standing that appeared safe in his early-morning march through Quail Hollow. Starting his day on the inward nine, McIlroy made the turn in two-under 34 despite bogeying the 344-yard 14th, statistically the easiest par 4 on the course. Birdies at the third and seventh strengthened his position.
Until he reached the short par-4 eighth. The hole is relatively innocent: as of writing, it’s only one of two holes on the front where the field is averaging red, with 53 birdies versus 34 bogeys-or-worse. Avoid the traps to the left of the fairway and players are golden.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, he was unable to do so, his drive finding the beach some 300 yards off the tee. His approach was well short of the green, and—attempting to get everything back on one shot—the four-time major winner was aggressive with his third, the ball traveling off the back of the green. McIlroy did not get up-and-down for bogey, bestowing a double-bogey 6.
“I think the one thing especially this week that’s become so tough is the greens are so firm,” McIlroy said. “The greens are really, really firm. I guess it’s hard because for how firm they are, they’re not overly fast. So if you start missing greens, it can make it a little bit tricky in terms of you’ve got to judge that first bounce as it’s going to bounce, but then once it starts to roll, it’s not really going to get away from you. So I find it a little tricky to judge some of the chip shots around the greens.”
Things did not improve at the ninth, airmailing the green after a 330-yard drive. Another failed up-and-down translated to a bogey, giving McIlroy a disappointing one-under 70.
“You know, I turned a 66 into a 70,” McIlroy said. “Golf, it’s a funny game, and these things happen.”
McIlroy will likely begin Saturday five shots behind Jason Dufner, whose 11-under score was fueled by a lights-out 63 on Friday. Given McIlroy’s prosperity at this event, it’s a position that will likely make Dufner and others on the leader board uncomfortable. And save for the short-game stumbles (currently 110th in strokes gained/around-the-green), McIlroy’s driving and second-shot dexterity are in line with his season-long success. As long as his putter behaves—McIlroy posted a -1.027 figure with the flat stick after a 2.033 performance on Thursday—Rory will have a viable chance for his third Wells Fargo victory.
“Still right there going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “Just need to try and shake off that bad finish today and get off to a good start tomorrow.”