WILMINGTON, N.C. – Once the rain finally stopped, the wind took over Friday in the Wells Fargo Championship. Billy Hurley III and Seamus Power of Ireland did their best to figure out the strong gusts and wound up atop the leaderboard at the end of a long day.
The second round started three hours late because of a violent storm that dumped nearly 2 inches of rain on Eagle Point, and 65 players had to return Saturday morning to complete the round.
Hurley hit a 4-iron from 174 yards that came up 15 yards short, and he managed to get up-and-down to cap off a strong finish for a 3-under 69. Power shot a 71 and joined Hurley at 5-under 139.
John Peterson’s last hole was a birdie on the par-5 12th hole. He was at 5 under and had six holes to play Saturday morning. Francesco Molinari of Italy, who opened with a 66, also was at 5 under and had seven holes remaining.
Dustin Johnson couldn’t get off the golf course fast enough. In his first tournament since a slip down the stairs knocked him out of the Masters, Johnson opened with a tough par save and a birdie to get within two shots of the lead until dropping shots on a pair of par 3s, getting out of position off the tee on the reachable par 5s and ending with a third bogey on No. 13.
Johnson was 2 over for his round, five shots out of the lead.
With the worst of the weather out of the way, one bizarre dynamic was in play depending on how the second round finishes Saturday morning. When play was halted by darkness, 80 players were at 1 over (either finished or on their back nine).
That could mean only a six-shot separation between leading and making the cut on the number, meaning a wide-open weekend.
The key was to get through Friday’s wild weather.
The wind was so strong that it blew Phil Mickelson’s hat off his head as he was preparing to hit his tee shot. Mickelson went along nicely until missing the green to the right on No. 9, dumping a chip into the bunker and making double bogey on his last hole for a 72. He was at 1-under 143.
“It was more difficult with the wind,” Hurley said. “Thankfully, with the rain it was softer. It we didn’t have this rain, and then we had this wind, it would have been pretty brutal. So we didn’t have to completely worry about the ball running away from you on the ground as much as it did yesterday.”
Hurley was 1 over for his round when he ran off four birdies over his last seven holes, including a couple from tap-in range, yet it was the par on No. 9 that excited him as much as the birdies. The green is exposed as much as any at Eagle Point, and he holed a 10-foot par putt.
Power played No. 9 in the middle of his round, hit a 6-iron and came up 40 yards short. His pitch barely reached the fringe, and he made bogey. Walking back up the hill to face the 186-yard, downhill 10th hole, he hit 5-iron and held his breath.
“It’s unusual. It messes with your eyes because you’re uncomfortable hitting that show knowing that if the wind dies, you might watch a ball sail into the water around the greens,” Power said. “You’ve just got to pick a number and you’ve got to go with and just try to get through those.”
Jon Rahm of Spain knows the feeling.
Rahm made five birdies and had to settle for a 71, but he was at 4-under 140 along with Vaughn Taylor (69), Rafa Cabrera Bello (71) and Brian Harman (69). Rahm began his round on the par-3 10th with a shot that came up some 20 yards short of the pin. What really got his attention was the par-3 second hole, where he hit a beautiful tee shot that went 192 yards – except the hole was playing only 161 yards.
“There were a couple moments where the difference between the wind being just straight right-to-left or being a little bit in, that wind could mean easily 20 yards because it was blowing so hard,” Rahm said. “What happened to me on No. 2, after a great stretch of holes, I carried it about 30 yards farther than what I wanted. I’m not the only one dealing with this. It probably happened to a couple other guys where they were 20 yards short or 20 yards long.”
Was it more fun than a calm day? Rahm smiled.
“It is fun because I played good,” he said. “But it does get a little frustrating sometimes.”
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