For the better part of four hours Friday, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler traded stories and birdies as though they were playing a friendly round back home in south Florida.
It was the marquee afternoon group during Friday’s second round at Quail Hollow Club, drawing large and loud crowds – and the two former Wells Fargo Championship winners did not disappoint.
Fowler shot a 4-under-par 68 – tied for the third-lowest round of the day – while McIlroy ended a solid round with a bogey-bogey finish to card a 3-under 69.
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Fowler, the 2012 winner in Charlotte, is 5 under after two rounds, three strokes behind leader Andrew Loupe. McIlroy trails Loupe by six shots at 2 under, but pointed out he was nine strokes behind Billy Mayfair in 2010 before storming to his first PGA Tour victory.
“If I can go out (Saturday) and shoot something in the mid-60s, I think the weather is supposed to be a little better again. That will give me a good chance going into Sunday,” said McIlroy, who blistered Quail with a tournament-record 61 on Saturday last year en route to his second Wells Fargo title.
McIlroy and Fowler, both of whom live in Jupiter, Fla., played in front of a big gallery, which erupted when McIlroy made an eagle when he chipped in at the par-5 seventh.
McIlroy was within four shots of the lead before faltering on the Green Mile, holes 16-18, which vexed him during Thursday’s opening round when he had a three-putt for a double bogey at 18.
On Friday, McIlroy had trouble with the wind, which was at his back on the par-3 17th and then in his face to make the 490-yard 18th play even longer.
McIlroy hit his 8-iron too far on 17 – he said later he should have used his 9-iron – and the ball settled off the back of the green. He left his chip 16 feet short, then two-putted.
McIlroy pushed his drive into the rough on 18, then tried to cut his approach shot around a tree. Instead, it went straight into the creek on the left side of the green.
“Eighteen was probably as tough as I’ve ever played it,” McIlroy said. “Rickie said walking up the fairway, he hit probably the best drive of the day for him and he still had a 4-iron into that pin. So it was playing long.”
Only a nice up-and-down saved McIlroy from a double for the second consecutive day.
“Obviously not nice to finish the way I did with two bogeys,” he said. “But the rest of the card looks pretty good.”
While McIlroy has played the last three holes in 4 over, Fowler escaped the Green Mile unscathed on Friday with three pars. Fowler saved par on 18 after his approach sailed into the greenside bunker.
Fowler’s lone bogey came when he failed to get up-and-down at the par-3 13th.
“I’m in a good spot,” Fowler said. “I made a good par putt at (18) to keep me within reach going into (Saturday) and we’ll see if we can get closer and maybe out front.”
McIlroy said he felt comfortable playing with Fowler on Friday, while Fowler believes both players are well-positioned for another win in Charlotte.
“It was fun to get each other going a bit and kind of feed off each other,” Fowler said. “Unfortunately, he made bogey at the last, but it’s going to be a fun weekend. I’m sure he’s going to play well (Saturday). I look forward to doing the same, and we’ll see if we can both get ourselves in the hunt for Sunday.”