Sloppy Saturday opens Sunday possibilities (weather permitting)

Interview: Nick Watney
Following a third-round 71, Nick Watney reflects on his play in the Wells Fargo Championship with Tom Werme from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.

May 04, 2013
Helen Ross,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The periwinkle blue cap with the flat white brim pulled over his face said it all. Better to not hear what Nick Watney actually was muttering after he squandered a two-shot lead on the 53rd hole of the Wells Fargo Championship.

Watney will undoubtedly take his share of grief in the locker room for the shank -- yes, we said it -- that produced a double-bogey on the 17th hole at Quail Hollow. When he sheepishly arrived at his ball, Watney still had 78 yards to the green. On a 207-yard par 3, no less. And his third shot didn't find the green, either.

But when the embarrassment subsides, and it will, just ask us mere mortals so well-acquainted with golf's ultimate gaffe, Watney must focus on the fact that he's still one of the men to beat in Sunday's final round.

"I can't remember really the last time I did that in a tournament, so it was a bit unsettling," Watney acknowledged. "But big picture, I'm tied for the lead, and I would have taken that on Thursday morning. Probably wouldn't have liked the way ... if you told me that was going to happen. Unfortunately, I can't change it now, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow.”

Phil Mickelson, the man who joined Watney at the top of the leaderboard and in Sunday’s final grouping, didn't exactly put on a clinic over the final four holes, either. He hit a 3-wood out of bounds at the 15th hole on the way to a double bogey, then bounced his approach at the 16th hole off a spectator's head that left him playing his third from the 17th tee.

Despite the stumbling finish, though, Mickelson and Watney, who are deadlocked at 8 under after reaching double digits on the back nine, still own a one-stroke advantage over George McNeill, the third member of Sunday’s final group. But suddenly there are 17 others within four strokes of the lead, including a pair of former world No. 1s in Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood.

"I think they might have given me a bit of a birthday present," said McIlroy, who turned 24 on Saturday. "I'm three back heading into tomorrow and that's as good as I can ask for."

Mickelson knew how costly the final four holes turned out to be for both him and Watney.

"I would have liked to have tried to increase the lead, given the opportunities there with the few holes remaining, but I played poorly coming down the stretch, and I'm lucky to be tied for the lead," Mickelson said. "Especially lucky to be tied for the lead if the final round gets washed out."

Interview: Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson reflects on his play with John Maginnes from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.

Ah, there's the big "if" that was on everyone's mind after a third chilly, cloudy day of competition. The weather forecast calls for rain to begin overnight and get increasingly heavy as the day progresses. Monday's forecast is for more of the same.

"It's supposed to be windy as well so it's going to be a fun day," McNeill said wryly. "Kind of a British Open versus a Wells Fargo but I guess we'll get out there and figure it out."

Tournament officials have moved tee times up dramatically to try to beat the deluge or at least open up the window of opportunity. Players will be sent off Nos. 1 and 10, and Mickelson, Watney and McNeill will bring up the rear at 8:46 a.m. ET.

The fear is that the tender greens, which took the brunt of a unseasonably long and unusually cold winter, could become unplayable if the rain is as heavy as expected. That left players in contention scrambling to improve their position on the leaderboard down the stretch on Saturday.

"From what I understand we're supposed to get a significant amount of rain, and some of the greens ... there is not a lot of grass on them, so I don't know how they'll hold up," Watney said. "I think it will be interesting to see how long we go ... if the rain comes like they say. But I'm glad I don't have to make that decision."

Mickelson couldn't help but think back to his 2000 victory at the BellSouth Classic. He and Gary Nicklaus were tied for the lead when a storm came through TPC Sugarloaf and washed out the final round. So they were shuttled out to the par-3 16th hole where Mickelson birdied the first hole of sudden death for the win.

That's why Mickelson was so focused over that 7-footer to save par at the 18th hole. He knew Watney was finished at 8 under and he wanted to stay there, too. But he'd been clutch from that distance this week -- making 47 of 49 inside 10 feet -- and this putt cooperated, too. Mission accomplished.

"I was leaking oil too and made some mistakes," Mickelson said. "But there is a high likelihood we don't get the final round in with the weather coming in tomorrow and Monday, and a good chance that we'll end up having a one-hole playoff. You have to be prepared for both scenarios.

"But it was important, that putt on the last hole, to be tied for the lead because if the last round is rained out at least I still have a chance."

And if it's not rained out? Well, the sellout crowd in Charlotte could be in for a treat.

"We'll see if we can get it in," Mickelson said. "If we can, it will be an exciting final round because ... there are so many guys within a few shots of the lead, it could be a real shootout tomorrow."

Or Mother Nature could have them shooting blanks.