CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The large crowd bunched together near the clubhouse was yelling “Phil! Phil! when Phil Mickelson was still inside signing his scorecard.
A man started chanting “Here we go Lefty, here we go!” as Mickelson began a television interview.
Eliminate Tiger Woods from the weekend, add a few afternoon cocktails to a Saturday crowd that didn’t seem to be thinned much by the world’s No. 1 player missing the cut, and Mickelson became the top attraction at the Quail Hollow Championship.
“I think that’s Charlotte, though,” Mickelson insisted after his 1-under 71 left him tied for second, two shots behind Billy Mayfair. “We get a lot more people at this tournament and they’re very supportive. I think it might be that.”
But it’s clear with Mickelson coming off another Masters victory and in contention for his first win here, he’ll be followed by a large gallery on Sunday when he’s in the next-to-last group.
“To be within a couple shots of the lead, I felt like I had to fight hard today and play hard because I didn’t have my best stuff,” Mickelson said as the fans shouted his name again. “I had to control my misses.”
GOOD AND BAD: Davis Love III was born in Charlotte and attended North Carolina. His daughter is with him this week and he heard plenty of “Go Heels!” chants while shooting a 4-under 68 on Saturday to put himself into contention for his first victory in two years.
But he’s not the only golfer who enjoys coming to Quail Hollow. Even a guy who missed the cut didn’t want to leave.
“I went out to pitch this morning and Derek Lamely was out there just working on his game and he goes, ‘Isn’t this place so nice?'” Love said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ I guess he missed the cut and he was just out practicing, and he was happy.”
Lamely didn’t make the weekend after shooting 75-72. But his feelings about Quail Hollow are shared by many on the PGA Tour.
“This is a great place to play golf,” said Love, who went bogey-free Saturday to move within two shots of the lead and earn a pairing with leader Billy Mayfair in the final group Sunday. “It’s like a mini-major.”
Not that everyone is completely happy with the setup. Mickelson had his caddie keep the flagstick in on a long putt on 18 where he said he couldn’t play it toward the hole.
“For as beautifully designed as this golf course is from tee to green, the greens are some of the worst designed greens that we have on tour,” Mickelson said. “I would say 18 is the worst on this tour, but it’s not the worst on this golf course. Twelve is, and we have some ridiculous putts here that you just can’t keep on.”
KIM’S TROUBLE: Anthony Kim, the 2008 Quail Hollow champion who finished third in the Masters, was in good shape heading to the 16th hole at 7 under after consecutive birdies.
Trouble was, Kim soon was walking down the wrong fairway.
His tee shot on the par 4 was so far right he was “in the junk, let’s say very nicely,” according to Kim. He then got aggressive, trying to hit “a miracle shot.”
It didn’t work, the ball hit a tree and bounced backward, forcing him to play his third shot down the parallel 18th fairway.
Kim then faced a shot where he had to hit it over the grandstand.
“It was a pretty good shot,” Kim said. “I couldn’t see the flag properly because there were so many people, but you saw the top of it.”
Kim got it on the green, but missed the putt for bogey – and still was cheered – before finishing with consecutive pars and a 2-under 70 that left him four shots behind leader Billy Mayfair.
“I love North Carolina,” Kim said. “I may just buy a house out here. This is my favorite tournament.”
McILROY BOUNCES BACK: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy left the Masters two days early with a wayward game and an aching back, wondering if he needed a long break.
Three weeks later, his back and game are loosening up.
McIlroy, who needed an eagle late in his round Friday to make the cut, shot a 6-under 66 on Saturday at Quail Hollow. It left him just four shots off the lead and energized after his painful stretch that included two missed cuts.
“It’ll probably take another two or three months to clear fully,” McIlroy said of his back. “But I feel as if I can swing with a lot more freedom and I can actually practice more, hit more balls and spend more time on the range, which has definitely helped.”
McIlroy, who finished tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and tied for third at the PGA Championship last year, got off to a quick start in 2010 before his back first flared up in February when he finished sixth in Dubai.
“I’d get on the range and I’d maybe only hit 100 balls because I wasn’t feeling very good,” McIlroy said. “So I’d have to stop my session short there, and it’s sort of been like that for the last couple months.
“I’ve added a couple events to my schedule just to try and play a little bit more and just get a little bit of fluidity back into the season.”
DIVOTS: After taking the Wachovia name off the tournament a year ago amid criticism during the bank bailouts, Wells Fargo is running television commercials during CBS’ telecast again. No decision has been made if the bank will rename the tournament in the future. Its contract as title sponsor runs through 2014. … Jim Furyk three-putted from about 12 feet for bogey on 18 for a 71, leaving him five shots back.