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Wells Fargo Championship: Gov. Pat McCrory returns on business

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/30/22/43/12qvGj.Em.138.jpeg|213
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, left, stops on the 16th fairway on Wednesday to talk with Kelly Henninger, center.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/30/22/43/jGdjj.Em.138.jpeg|259
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Swede Jonas Blixt, here on his second shot on the 16th fairway, has seen shades of home at Quail Hollow this week.

Governor Pat returns on business

Johnson Wagner didn’t bother with a formal title for Gov. Pat McCrory.

Before the end of the first hole at Wednesday’s Wells Fargo Championship pro-am at Quail Hollow Club, Wagner was already calling his playing partner “Pat.”

“It’s kind of ironic,” said McCrory, the former 14-year mayor of Charlotte. “I’m still called Mayor Pat here.

“We had a lot of fun. People are very nice to me. It’s good to be back home.”

Quail Hollow’s course wasn’t particularly kind to McCrory, who said he’s going to stick to his day job. But he played in the pro-am to help promote an economic plan in the state.

With both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens being held in Pinehurst later this year, McCrory said he wants to grow the sport in the state for two purposes.

“We’re going to use that as a major kickoff for our new economic brand and strategy,” McCrory said. “We’re going to be inviting a lot of corporations from throughout the world to Pinehurst. We’re going to start using golf as a major recruitment tool not only for business but also travel and tourism.

“Golf is a part of our economic development strategy for both our traveling and tourism and as a method to recruit a lot of executives who are making decisions about where they locate their business.”

Though he didn’t contribute much to the scorecard, McCrory’s team with Wagner and Mac Everett finished in a tie for 12th at 9 under.

Steady Simpson: Charlotte’s Webb Simpson has had an up-and-down season. He got off to a stellar start when he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open back in October. Simpson followed that with top 10s in five of his next seven tournaments and spent one week as the FedEx Cup points leader.

But he has lost his edge as of late, missing two cuts recently (including the Masters) and finishing no higher than 47th in two others. He has dropped to 11th in the FedEx Cup standings and 29th in the world.

“It’s been kind of a tale of two cities this season,” Simpson said. “But as bad as I feel like I’ve played in the last month and a half … I’m still 11th on the FedEx Cup standings and 11th on the money list.

“I’ve got to stay positive. It’s game that you go in waves. I never get too down. It gets frustrating, but it’s nice to be able to play every week. What we do is get opportunities every week to start playing good again.”

Time for changes: Derek Ernst has changed his entire support team since winning the tournament last year, including his caddie, agent, coach and trainer.

But he’s brought back Aaron Craft, the caddie he won with in 2013, for this week.

“I brought him back for good vibes, good mojo for this week,” said Ernst. “He knows the course pretty well and I feel like we will be a good team this week.”

Another reason Ernst might have brought him back. All Wells Fargo players are given Mercedes courtesy cars to drive for the week. The defending champion’s caddie gets one, as well.

Ernst’s new caddie, Jeff King, is in Charlotte, too. He makes and markets Kingmade Jerky, a beef jerky that’s become popular with golfers and will soon be available in stores.

No time for Lefty: The U.S. Open is coming to Pinehurst in June and Phil Mickelson is eager to play and test the changes made recently to the famed No. 2 course.

The problem for Mickelson, however, is he can’t get a tee time.

“I’ve tried to get down there three times now and the course has been booked (each time),” Mickelson said. “They won’t let me out there. So I don’t know when I’ll get down there.”

Mickelson was pressed on how a player of his stature wouldn’t be able to get on at Pinehurst.

“Well, I can, I just don’t want to go out with 200 people on the course and I usually go when it’s closed,” Mickelson said. “It will be closed a few weeks prior to the (Open) and I’ll go then.”

Observations

• Several pros and amateurs remarked how surprised they were that bad weather held off again on Wednesday. Thursday’s high temperature is 78 degrees with a 20 percent chance of rain.

• Alejandra Ayala, the 14-year-old winner of the Wells Fargo Succeeding Together contest, picked 2010 winner Rory McIlroy to play beside Wednesday. McIlroy said the Atlanta native was “a really well-mannered young lady.”

• Teams led by Mickelson, Justin Rose and Angel Cabrera finished in a tie for first at 12 under.

Quotes

“I’ve never been a defending champ before, so this is the first time doing stuff like this I haven’t done all year, so it’s a little different but it’s super exciting.”

–Derek Ernst

“I’m looking forward to this week ... It’s a special place, I think. Its tree line, what I grew up with, and the greens are great this year.”

-Jonas Blixt

“It’s hard for me to tell where I’m at with my game, because last time I played I missed the cut at the Masters, which I usually make, and then I ended up having two good weeks off.”

-Phil Mickelson

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