Flores flourishes in 1st round again
Thursday’s Wells Fargo Championship leader board had some familiar names at the top.
There were former Masters champions Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson, 32-year-old Martin Flores and former U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson all among the first names on the board.
Wait. Martin Flores?
Flores has been on the PGA Tour since 2010 and had his best finish at the 2013 John Deere Classic with a tie for third. He shot 5-under-par 67 Thursday at Quail Hollow Club to finish one stroke off the lead and in a tie with Mickelson for second.
“I played fantastic. Can’t really complain about anything in my game,” Flores said. “Drove the ball well, which set up opportunities from the fairway, and that led to opportunities for birdies. Pleased with everything, especially with how windy it was today.”
Flores, ranked No. 226 in the world, had two top-10 finishes in 2013 but none in 2014. He’s made five cuts in the 10 tournaments he’s played this year, and he’s in position to make it six after Friday’s round.
The Oklahoma alumnus had five birdies between the 8th and 15th holes. He finished the first round with seven birdies and two bogeys, with the final bogey on No. 17 when he missed a 10-foot par putt.
Flores has had hot starts at Quail Hollow before. In 2012 he shot 4-under 68 in the first round before finishing in a tie for 21st at 7 under.
“I just like that it’s hard, I like that it’s long,” Flores said. “There are certain courses that fit your eye and this is kind of one of them. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, it just looks appealing to me.”
“There are some (greens) that are softer than others, but it’s sort of expected with new greens,” McIlroy said. “They’re so new that they’re not going to settle at the same time. ... So I felt like there were a few balls out there stopping pretty quickly and a few that released, so that’s something to be weary of.”
Quail Hollow Club replaced all 18 greens following the 2013 tournament and resurfaced them with MiniVerde Bermuda grass. The renovations were completed in the fall.
McIlroy is one of the best putters on tour, ranking 13th in putting average at 1.735. Thursday he averaged 1.615 putts on greens in regulation.
“Around the greens it’s a little different, but having played a competitive round out there now I feel like I’m pretty much adjusted to it,” said McIlroy, who played in Wednesday’s pro-am.
McIlroy said he’s never been the type to rely on his putting since he’s such a big hitter off the tee.
“I’ve always been a different sort of player where even if sometimes I don’t putt so well,” McIlroy said, “I’ll still be able to get it to run under par because I can hit the greens on the par 5s and two-putt those and hit a couple of iron shots close.”
• Gastonia native and East Carolina graduate Harold Varner III went into No. 12 at even par in his third PGA tour event.
But the back nine wasn't kind to Varner, who had four bogeys and one double bogey in the final seven holes to finish at 6-over 78 in the first round.
Varner will tee off from the 10th tee at 8:40 a.m. Friday.
• Players, fans and officials dodged the rain again Thursday, and it looks as if they will again Friday. The forecast is for a high of 72, partly cloudy skies with a 10 percent chance of rain on Friday.
• North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora and receivers coach Gunter Brewer were seen hanging out on the back nine at Quail Hollow Club.
• Defending champion Derek Ernst closed out his first round with a 1-over 73.
• Nice touch by Phil Mickelson on the fifth hole after playing partner Justin Rose sank a 75-foot putt for eagle. Mickelson, standing next to Rose, applauded along with the crowd.
By the numbers
“Last year it wasn’t so much grass. This year I think the greens are really good.”
“It’s a week I want to play really well, so if I’m not playing well maybe I get frustrated and try too hard, and I get in the way.”
“I think the changes they made are excellent, first of all, on 16 and 17, because I made two birdies on those holes.”