CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Keith Mitchell ended the Valspar Championship with a thud last week with a final-round 82.
Gary Woodland said he hit rock bottom when he missed the Valspar cut as issues with his left hip had him contemplating about taking a long break.
And four-time major champion Rory McIlroy hasn’t won in more than 550 days as he hasn’t been himself since the PGA Tour returned last June following a 13-week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Well, those are the three names at the top of the leaderboard at the Wells Fargo Championship after a testing sun-drenched Saturday had players on edge throughout their rounds at Quail Hollow.
“Golf can be very lucky and very unlucky all at the same time,” Mitchell said when asked what it says about golf when he can shoot 82 one week and lead the next week. “You have to take the ebbs and flows, there’s ups and downs, lucky and unlucky. Last week I got unlucky, this week right now I’ve had some good breaks.
“So hopefully it will keep going on Sunday.”
Mitchell grabbed a two-shot lead with a bogey-free, 5-under-par 66 that moved him to 9 under through 54 holes. He’ll be playing in the final group with McIlroy, who hasn’t won since the fall of 2019 and will be playing in the final group for the first time since the 2020 Genesis Invitational. McIlroy, who fell to 15th in the world this week, his lowest ranking since 2009, moved to 7 under with a 68.
Woodland is also at 7 under after a 70 and Luke List is at 6 under after a 68. Satoshi Kodaira (68) and Scott Stallings (70) are 5 under.
While he doesn’t look the worse for wear and tear from his struggles – he’s had just one top-10 since the start of 2020 – Mitchell was certainly pleased through three days. His 66 Saturday was his first bogey-free round since the final round of the 2020 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship last September. His lone PGA Tour title came in the 2019 Honda Classic and his struggles have dropped him to 249th in the official world rankings.
“I didn’t play very well last year after the restart, just didn’t have the energy, didn’t have the patience with that short of a season last year, trying to climb the leaderboard,” he said. “Then felt like my game this year is really starting to blossom and it’s just really kind of all starting to shape up right now.
“I just feel like everything’s really working. My driver feels great, and around this place you’ve really got to drive it well. Really all of it feels good right now. Really just trying to keep the ball in front of me right now and see what we can do.”
McIlroy said he felt good about his game after taking three weeks off following his missed cut at the Masters. In the first round, his iron play was outstanding. In the second round, he overpowered the course with his new strategy off the tee – he’s committed to hitting the fade with his driver and no longer hits a swinging draw, which was his bread-and-butter for years. In the third round, his putter was the star of the golf bag.
“I’m excited to be in the position I’m in. I wasn’t really expecting to be in this position coming into this week. I felt like I was still working on my game and I thought progress this week was being here today, which I am,” he said. “Then I play well again today. So I just have to go out and try to play well again tomorrow and see where that leaves me.”
McIlroy especially liked the buzz that has swept over Quail Hollow this week as roughly 10,000 fans have been in attendance each day.
“I’ve missed it. I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did, but I really have,” he said. “So to be in contention, to have the fans back, I really enjoyed it out there today and I’m excited about tomorrow.”
McIlroy is the clear favorite to win on Sunday considering his track record here – he won his first PGA Tour title in 2010, won again in 2015, lost in a playoff in 2012 and has four other top-10s in nine starts.
But Woodland and Mitchell will have something to say about that. So possibly will many others, as many players say no lead is safe at Quail Hollow.
Woodland, who won the 2019 U.S. Open, had a long talk with noted coach Butch Harmon on Saturday after missing the Valspar cut and worked with prominent coach Pete Cowen and discovered his swing needed slight alterations. Woodland tore his labrum in his left hip and instead of surgery, he opted for rest and rehab and kept playing. But to alleviate pain, he got into bad swing habits. Harmon and Cowen got him back to swinging like Gary Woodland and he’s pain free.
“The ball‑striking’s been coming this week,” he said. “I just haven’t drove it well, and today I drove it very well. I hit a couple bad shots, but all in all I controlled the golf ball the way I wanted to and I’m excited about that. It sets up well for me tomorrow. I felt confident today and that’s a good thing. It’s been a while for that. It feels great to be back in this position, feel some nerves.
“The U.S. Open wasn’t too far in the past, so I’ll rely on that a lot. But the big deal for me is to trust what I’m doing, enjoy, take a step back, take a second every once in a while, enjoy it and trust it because it’s there, it’s there for the taking.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/08/pga-tour-rory-mcilroy-wells-fargo-championship/