May 8, 2017
Dustin Johnson was in the clubhouse, tied for the lead and poised for a chance to join an elite class with a fourth straight PGA Tour victory. Brian Harman was on the last tee, knowing a birdie on the par-5 18th would be enough to win the Wells Fargo Championship.
Harman could have drawn it up differently, but not any better.
Switching from a 5-wood to a 3-wood for his 271-yard shot in the 18th, he went so long that he needed relief from a corporate chalet. His chip became harder because of tree limbs that made him go low, and his chip came out soft and barely got onto the green.
And then he rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt for a 4-under 68 and a one-shot victory Sunday over Johnson and Pat Perez.
''I didn't hit a great chip. It didn't turn out very good,'' Harman said. ''But I guess it went where it was supposed to.''
The greens at Eagle Point were so pure that Harman knew it was good when the ball was 5 feet from the cup. He turned and pumped his arms in a wild celebration that ended in a hug with his caddie, Scott Tway, for a victory that was a long time coming.
Harman won for the first time in nearly three years.
For Johnson, playing for the first time since a freak accident knocked him out of the Masters, it was the first time in nearly three months that he left a PGA Tour event without the trophy. It wasn't from a lack of trying. Johnson made the cut on the number, and then went 67-67 on the weekend, including a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, to nearly pull out another victory.
''I didn't have a lot of time off, so I didn't really know what to expect this week because I didn't really get to practice leading into this tournament, either,'' Johnson said. ''Not much has changed. The first couple days I didn't play that great, but really played nicely on Saturday and Sunday and so I'm happy with where the game is going into next week.''
Perez did his part, bouncing back from a double bogey on the 14th hole that took him out of the lead by making birdies on the 16th and 18th holes for a 68 that he thought might be good enough for a playoff with Johnson, the world's No. 1 player, and Harman.
''Hell of an up-and-down from back there,'' Perez said. ''He deserves it. He played great.''
Perez moves to No. 42 in the world ranking, which makes him a lock to be exempt from U.S. Open qualifying. Harman gets back to the Masters, and he doesn't mind having to wait 11 months for a return to Augusta National.
Jon Rahm of Spain was in the mix, too. Rahm, one of five players who had at least a share of the lead on the back nine, watched from the 18th fairway as the crowd that surrounded the hole and filled all three levels of a hospitality chalet erupted in cheers. He knew he needed an eagle - just like the one he made at Torrey Pines for his first PGA Tour victory - to force a playoff. He was posing. And it sailed over the green, leading to par and a 71 to finish alone in fourth.
Lost in Harman's long birdie putt for the victory were two shots that led to that moment - an 8-iron from 176 yards to 3 feet on the 14th for a tap-in birdie, and the pitching wedge from 137 yards on the 17th hole to 4 feet that put him in position for the victory.
In between was a three-putt from the par-3 15th that he thought would cost him.
''Knew it was going to be tough to birdie those last couple,'' Harman said. ''But I stuck to my game plan and just did it. Did the best I could.''
And it was just enough.
Johnson was playing for the first time in six weeks because of his slip down the stairs the day before the Masters that led to him pulling out. A quick start allowed him to lurk behind the leaders all day, and he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th that gave him a share of the lead.
Then, he was alone in the lead when others started to stumble - Perez with a double bogey on No. 14, Harman with the three-putt bogey on the 15th and Patrick Reed, the 54-hole leader who made four bogeys in a six-hole stretch on the back nine.
Reed shot 40 on the back nine for a 75 and fell out of the top 10. He played in the final group with Alex Noren of Sweden, who closed with a 77.
Johnson was trying to join Byron Nelson, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Jack Burke Jr. as the only players with at least four straight PGA Tour victories. He was hurt slightly by his mishap at the Masters, when he suffered a deep bruise on his lower back from the tumble down the stairs while still wearing only socks. This was his first time playing in six weeks, and while there were signs of rust, he looked like the same old Johnson over the weekend as he tried to make up ground and almost did.
May 6, 2017
American Patrick Reed closed with back-to-back birdies to seize a one-stroke lead over Spain's Jon Rahm and Sweden's Alex Noren after Saturday's third round of the PGA Wells Fargo Championship.
Reed, seeking his sixth career PGA Tour crown, sank a four-foot birdie putt at the par-4 17th and tapped-in for birdie at the par-5 18th after just missing a 30-foot eagle putt to fire a five-under par 67.
That left 15th-ranked Reed on eight-under par 208 after 54 holes at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, North Carolina -- a one-year host for the event while its usual course, Quail Hollow in Charlotte, readies for the PGA Championship in August.
"(I've got to) just keep playing the way I've been playing, keep things rolling on the greens pretty good and make some putts," said Reed, who has only one top-10 effort this year.
Rahm and Noren each fired 69s to stand on 209, one stroke in front of Americans Brian Harman and Vaughn Taylor and South Korean Noh Seung-Yul, whose 67 matched the day's low round with Reed and top-ranked Dustin Johnson.
Reigning US Open champion Johnson, playing his first event since withdrawing from the Masters with a lower back injury, was in a pack sharing 14th on 212 that also included five-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
"It has been very tough conditions the past two days," Noren said. "If it's the same tomorrow it's going to be a very open field."
The day began with 68 players finishing their second rounds after a three-hour delay Friday due to heavy overnight rains left matters unsettled when darkness fell.
First-day leader Francesco Molinari of Italy completed a second-round 72 to carry a one-stroke lead into the afternoon, but fired another 72 in less windy conditions that allowed 18 players to come within four shots of the lead.
"Benign around here is 15-18 mph," Reed said. "It was the calmest of the three days out here and you can see it in the scores from a lot of the guys. It was almost easy out there."
Reed birdied the par-5 fourth and par-4 eighth and kept his hot hand with a 12-foot birdie at the par-3 10th and an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th. His lone bogey came on a four-foot par putt miss at 14.
Noren, with eight wins in Europe, seeks his first on the US PGA Tour as he tries to keep playing rights in both.
"It feels different. I'm not used to playing over here," Noren said. "I know the guys on the European Tour. Coming here is a little bit different. but it's still golf.
"I'm trying to develop my game to do it but it's difficult with a family and all the traveling."
Noren holed long birdie putts to make his charge, a 38-footer at the fourth, a 24-footer at the par-4 seventh, a 28-footer at the 10th and a 12-footer at 14, but it was a four-foot par miss at 16 that kept him from sharing the lead with Reed.
Rahm grabbed his share of second by sinking a 23-foot birdie at the 18th.
May 6, 2017
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.''
May 5, 2017
Six weeks away from competition didn't keep Dustin Johnson from extending one streak Thursday, with hopes of adding to another.
Johnson showed more game than rust at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he missed only two greens - and plenty of putts - for a 2-under 70 that left him four shots behind leader Francesco Molinari at blustery Eagle Point Golf Club.
It was Johnson's 13th consecutive round at par or better.
Johnson wasn't as flawless as he looked while winning three straight tournaments, though he had few complaints under the circumstances. It was his first time playing since he slipped in his socks down the stairs at his rental house in Augusta, hurting his back and knocking him out of the Masters.
''Since I hadn't played in so long, I'm happy with the way I played,'' Johnson said. ''I didn't score that great, didn't really hole that many putts, but other than that, I played really well. I think I hit 16 greens and I hit the ball great.''
No one was sure what to expect at Eagle Point, where the Wells Fargo Championship moved this year because its traditional venue, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, is hosting the PGA Championship in August.
On greens that were slightly softer and as pure as can be, Molinari ran off five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the front nine and closed out his round with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Alex Noren of Sweden, J.B. Holmes, Grayson Murray and Brian Campbell.
Murray was the only player to reach 7 under until he finished with back-to-back bogeys. Campbell, playing with Murray, also was tied for the lead until he found the left bunker on the par-5 ninth and failed to get up-and-down.
Holmes birdied his last three holes for a 67. He played with Phil Mickelson, who shot 71 in his first time out since the Masters.
Just over half the 156-man field was at par or better.
Johnson started well enough to act as though nothing has happened since he last played March 26 at the Dell Technologies Match Play, his third straight victory, which strengthened his hold at No. 1 in the world.
He was rarely in trouble, made only one putt longer than 10 feet and still shot 70. It was a reasonable start in resuming his quest for a fourth straight PGA Tour victory, which would be the longest streak since Tiger Woods won five in a row at the end of the 2007 season and the start of 2008.
''I played a lot better than my score,'' Johnson said.
He didn't miss a green until a gust knocked down his tee shot on the par-3 second hole (his 11th of the round) and sent it down a slope short of the green. He chipped weakly up the hill to 12 feet and made his first bogey. He closed out his round by pulling a drive on the par-4 ninth hole, punching under tree limbs to short of the green and again pitching it short. He started walking as soon as he hit his 10-foot par putt, knowing it was off to the right.
''All in all, I'm very pleased with the day,'' Johnson said.
There were no issues with the deep bruise he suffered in his lower left back, which ranks among the top freak accidents in golf under the circumstances. Johnson was playing the best golf of his life - those three victories were against the three strongest fields of the year - when he hustled downstairs to move his car in the rain because his 2-year-old son was on his way home from day care.
He slipped at the bottom of the stairs, crashing onto his back and left elbow, and Johnson couldn't swing well enough to compete at the Masters.
Whatever rust he showed in the pro-am Wednesday was gone, at least on the back nine when he started. He hit a sand wedge to the back tier on the par-5 12th to 4 feet for birdie. He holed a putt just inside 10 feet for birdie on the par-5 15th, smashed another drive down the 16th and hit a wedge to 2 feet.
That put him at 3 under through eight holes, at the time tied for the lead, and he hammered another drive on the par-5 18th. With the wind in his face and water on the right, Johnson elected to lay up. His lob wedge was 20 feet right of the pin, and there were other short irons that a month ago he would have expected to get within 10 feet. The few times he did, Johnson missed the putts.
''I knew I wasn't going to play as good,'' Johnson said. ''I maybe played a little more conservatively. But anything under par was going to be a good score.''
278 Brian Harman 71 69 70 68
278 Brian Harman 71 69 70 68
279 Dustin Johnson 70 75 67 67, Pat Perez 72 69 70 68
280 Jon Rahm (Spa) 69 71 69 71
281 Seung-Yul Noh (Kor) 69 74 67 71, Kevin Tway 72 70 69 70, Smylie Kaufman 70 71 72 68
282 Billy Hurley III 70 69 72 71, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 72 70 69 71, Nick Taylor (Can) 71 69 71 71, Jonathan Randolph 69 73 73 67
283 D.A. Points 73 69 73 68, Vaughn Taylor 71 69 70 73, Morgan Hoffmann 70 71 71 71, Paul Casey (Eng) 70 75 70 68, Zac Blair 72 70 69 72, Patrick Reed 70 71 67 75
284 Phil Mickelson 71 72 69 72, Ben Martin 68 72 74 70, Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 71 71 70 72, Zach Johnson 71 73 69 71, Brandon Hagy 73 71 71 69, David Lingmerth (Swe) 72 70 70 72
285 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 66 72 72 75, JT Poston 71 73 70 71, Xander Schauffele71 70 76 68, Shane Lowry (Irl) 75 70 68 72, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 69 71 73 72, Mark Anderson 70 72 71 72, Robert Streb 72 71 72 70
286 Spencer Levin 72 72 71 71, Alex Noren (Swe) 67 73 69 77, Chad Collins 71 74 69 72, Brett Drewitt (Aus) 73 72 71 70, Mackenzie Hughes (Can) 70 72 71 73
287 Daniel Berger 71 72 72 72, Julian Etulain (Arg) 72 71 73 71, J.B. Holmes 67 74 73 73, Adam Scott (Aus) 71 74 72 70, John Peterson 70 69 74 74, Bryce Molder 75 70 70 72
288 Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 72 70 73 73, Kyle Reifers 72 70 73 73, Tag Ridings 70 72 77 69, Martin Laird (Sco) 71 72 71 74, Tyrone Van Aswegen (Rsa) 72 73 73 70, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa) 75 70 68 75, Chez Reavie 72 71 70 75
289 Retief Goosen (Rsa) 70 72 73 74, Hudson Swafford 72 73 74 70, Seamus Power (Irl) 68 71 77 73
290 Hunter Mahan 72 73 71 74, Luke List 72 71 74 73, Robby Shelton 73 72 70 75, Brian Gay 70 72 71 77, Lucas Glover 71 73 76 70, Curtis Luck (Aus) 72 73 73 72, Tyler Aldridge 74 70 71 75
291 Nick Watney 71 74 70 76, Ryan Armour 71 72 75 73, James Hahn 72 71 75 73, Justin Lower 71 73 75 72
292 Ricky Barnes 73 72 70 77, Grayson Murray 67 73 76 76, Shawn Stefani 69 72 77 74
293 Jason Kokrak 71 74 75 73, J.J. Henry 71 74 75 73, Matt Jones (Aus) 72 72 74 75, Ryan Blaum 72 73 74 74, Patton Kizzire 73 71 72 77
296 Chris Kirk 69 76 75 76, Brad Fritsch (Can) 73 71 74 78
297 Miguel Angel Carballo (Arg) 75 70 74 78
298 Ken Duke 68 76 76 78