CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rickie Fowler is looking to jumpstart his season at a course where he first won on the PGA Tour.
Fowler shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday to take the third-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Fowler, who broke through at Quail Hollow Club in 2012 for his first tour title, had a one-stroke lead over Roberto Castro, with Justin Rose and James Hahn two strokes back.
Fowler won The Players Championship and Deutsche Bank Championship last year and took the European Tour event in Abu Dhabi early this year. Though he blew a late lead and lost the Phoenix Open in a playoff this season, he has the confidence to handle pressure situations in the final round. That’s something he admitted he didn’t have five years ago.
“It’s completely different,” Fowler said. “I would say before (it was) maybe not the complete belief or knowledge of knowing what to do and how to win to get the job done. But now it’s fun to go out there and go take care of business.”
Castro was atop the leaderboard most of the day, but bogeyed the 18th hole for a 71.
Winless on the tour, he said he’s looking forward to playing with Fowler in the final group Sunday.
“If you want to win a tournament out here and really win a marquee event like this one, you’re going to have to grab your hat and play with one of the top five players in the world probably the final round,” Castro said. “So that’s what I’ve got tomorrow so I’m excited about it.”
Fowler parred the first seven holes Saturday before heating up with three straight birdies on Nos. 8-10. It appeared things were starting to crumble after bogeys on 10 and 12, but Fowler came back strong with three straight birdies starting on No. 14 to pull into a tie for the lead.
He had a little luck along the way.
Fowler avoided potential trouble on the 18th hole when his ball held up in the high grass instead of rolling into the creek along left side of the fairway. Playing with the ball well above his feet, Fowler ripped an iron onto the green and saved par.
Phil Mickelson and defending champion Rory McIlroy struggled, dropping eight shots behind Fowler.
Mickelson, looking for his first win at the Quail Hollow Club in 13 starts, was in contention until a quadruple-bogey 8 on his old nemesis, the 18th hole. He finished with a 76.
He found the creek on his approach shot and, after taking a drop, needed three chips before finding the green and two-putting for an 8.
Mickelson’s struggles on the final hole at Quail Hollow have been well documented. In the 51 career rounds, he is 21 over on No. 18 – a hole he said earlier this week simply doesn’t set up well for the left-hander.
McIlroy, the tournament’s only two-time winner, had two bogeys in the first four holes and shot 73.
The two-time tournament champion who shot 11-under 61 last year in the third round on his way to a runaway victory, couldn’t muster that same magic on Saturday.
He struggled throughout his round with his accuracy off the tee and putting. A double bogey on the ninth hole and bogey on the 11th seemed to zap him of any momentum and likely a chance at becoming the tournament’s first three-time winner.
McIlroy said the course is “tricky,” especially on the back nine but said his game still isn’t where it needs to be.
“There’s been spells where it’s been good and I’ve had a couple of chances to win this year, but it’s a work in progress,” said McIlroy, who has not won on the PGA Tour this season. “I’m trying to stay patient, as patient as possible, but there are definitely times out on the course where I get quite frustrated.”
Adam Hadwin, of Abbotsford, B.C., and Graham DeLaet, of Weyburn, Sask., are both 2 over for the tournament and tied for 51st.
Rose has quietly put himself in contention on Sunday after rounds of 70, 70 and 69.
He said the course, which will host the PGA Championship next year, is playing extremely hard especially given the gusty wind this week.
“This type of scoring would definitely hold up in a PGA Championship,” Rose said. “They’re not looking for us to shoot even par like a U.S. Open. Single digits under par is really good golf and it’s a sign of a great golf course.”