CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Throughout the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship, names kept popping up of major champions who have not been heard from very much. Martin Kaymer. Stewart Cink. Geoff Ogilvy. Retief Goosen.
It was the name at the top of the leaderboard that might have been the biggest surprise: Angel Cabrera.
The powerful Argentine never seems to show up unless it’s a major championship, and Quail Hollow doesn’t host the PGA Championship for another three years. Cabrera’s only two PGA Tour wins were at special places – Oakmont at the 2007 U.S. Open, Augusta National at the 2009 Masters. He also had a close call at the Masters a year ago until Adam Scott beat him in a playoff.
Cabrera, known for his length off the tee, relied on a pair of superb short-game shots late in his round Friday that carried him to a 3-under 69 and gave him a share of the lead with Martin Flores (68) going into the weekend.
They were at 9-under 135, one shot ahead of U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who had a 67.
Look more closely though, and there’s a reason Cabrera feels comfortable at Quail Hollow. He was asked after the round if it reminded him of Augusta National, and he simply laughed and said that Augusta had no comparison.
But one of his close calls in a regular PGA Tour event was at Quail Hollow in 2010, when he was tied for the lead with eight holes to play until his putter went cold and Rory McIlroy blew away the field with a course-record 62.
Even so, it’s no secret “El Pato” – Spanish for The Duck – likes it here.
“Honestly, it’s a course that lets me hit driver a lot, and for that reason, it probably fits my game well,” he said. “And that’s probably why I play well here.”
And yet it was his short game that enabled him to catch – and briefly pass – Flores, who had the advantage of cool, calm morning conditions.
Cabrera was in a fairway bunker on the par-5 seventh hole, 206 yards away with a lip in front of his ball. He went for the green with an 8-iron, backing off when a fan’s cellphone began to ring. Cabrera cleared the lip, but left himself a difficult shot from 40 yards short of the green with a front hole location.
Studying the shot for a few minutes, he played a pitch-and-run that banged into the bank, rolled onto the green and settled about 5 feet away for a birdie.
“Getting out of the bunker wasn’t that difficult because I just needed to get it out there in that area,” Cabrera said. “The chip was more complicated. I needed to decide if I wanted to bring it up or keep it low and let it bump. So I ended up doing that. It was a great shot. That’s what we wanted.”
On the 352-yard eighth hole – driver, of course – his tee shot went into the rough just short of a bunker. Cabrera judged it perfectly with a flop shot that ran up the ridge to about 3 feet. That put him in the lead, though he gave it back on his last hole by failing to save par from a bunker.
No matter. It’s a good spot for Cabrera, the first time he has held at least a share of the 36-hole lead since Oakmont.
He’s happy. He’s not surprised. And he’s not looking too far around the corner. Cabrera was quick to point out that “there is a lot of work left” and that he’s still “in the middle of the road,” which would translate to being halfway to the destination.
Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy have a much longer journey.
Mickelson, one shot out of the lead to start the second round and perfect conditions ahead of him, seemed to miss every putt that he made on Thursday. He had a 75 and fell seven shots out of the lead.
“I can’t believe the difference in putting from yesterday to today,” Mickelson said. “Yesterday, I saw every ball go in the hole. And today I couldn’t get them to fall and was three-putting, which is funny because the greens today were so perfect. … I struggled today. I don’t have any great reason. It didn’t feel far off.”
McIlroy started with a three-putt from 18 feet on the second hole. He drove behind a tree on the third hole and hit into a bush on the fourth hole, both times taking a penalty drop and making double bogey. He wound up with a 76 and made the cut on the number at 1-over 145.
McIlroy missed five putts from 6 feet or closer.
“I just didn’t have my game today,” McIlroy said. “Off the tee, it was good. I didn’t get the ball close enough. My putting didn’t feel as comfortable as it did yesterday.”