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Rickie Fowler holds one-stroke lead at Wells Fargo Championship

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This is Rickie Fowler’s time of the year.

Two of his three PGA Tour victories have come in the first two weeks in May, and he’s in position for another one at Quail Hollow Club.

Fowler shot a 4-under 68 Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship to go to 9 under for the tournament, and he holds a one-stroke lead over Roberto Castro, with whom he’ll be paired Sunday afternoon.

“This time of year has been good to me,” said Fowler, who won his first PGA Tour event at Quail in 2012. “Obviously last year (at The Players Championship) and then winning here before.

“It doesn’t matter what it is, I’ll take the good playing this time of year.”

Castro peaked at 9 under three times Saturday but gave it back each time, including a bogey on 18 to finish his 1-under round.

Andrew Loupe, who held at least a share of the lead going into Friday and Saturday, held his ground at 8 under until a double bogey on the final hole to fall to a tie for fifth.

Some of the strongest winds of the tournament came near noon on Saturday, and tough pin placements and fast greens all amounted to some tough putting.

Several players, including Phil Mickelson and Gastonia’s Harold Varner III, saw their balls roll off a green and into a fairway.

“I saw a couple of guys putting on one hole and then chipping on their next shot, which is in my opinion a little aggressive that that could even happen,” Lucas Glover said. “But, you know, it’s out there, it’s a major championship golf course as we’re going to see next year (for the PGA Championship). But greens are fast. The hole locations are definitely dicey.”

The greens will dry out and firm up leading up to and during the final round as Sunday temperatures are expected to approach the mid-80s.

Five who mattered

Justin Rose: Rose has moved up quietly and steadily all weekend. From tied for 17th on Friday to tied for 11th before the third round, Rose goes into Sunday tied for third.

James Hahn: He tied with Fowler for the best round of the day. Hahn rolled in six birdies on Saturday.

Retief Goosen: The two-time U.S. Open champion was threatening to make a run on the back nine at 5 under but went 1 over in that stretch to finish at 4 under.

Chesson Hadley: The Raleigh native had a tough time on the course. His 4-over day sent him to 2 under for the tournament, and he carded just one birdie.

Loupe: The virtual unknown held steady at even until a double bogey at 18 dropped him to 6 under on the tournament.

Observations

▪  Just as it looked like Mickelson had figured out the Green Mile, he was fooled again. Lefty went 2 under in the final three holes Friday but was 4 over in that stretch Saturday. He bogeyed 16, got a rare birdie on 17 and then quadruple-bogeyed 18 when he hit in a hazard and then saw his par chip roll off the green and into the fairway.

▪  Rory McIlroy was all over the place. He only shot 1 over, but he carded four bogeys and one double bogey. Eight shots back of the leader, it’ll be a long climb for the tournament’s two-time champion.

▪  Tim Wilkinson’s golf superstition is “whatever worked the day before.” He went against that Saturday. He shot 2 under to move to 5 under for the event and in a tie for seventh. “Polar opposite from the first two rounds,” he said. “I hit a lot of fairways today and a lot more greens.”

▪  Quail Hollow Club is one of the longest courses on tour, but Carlos Ortiz needed just a 50-degree wedge to make his fifth career hole-in-one. Ortiz holed out the 17th, which was shortened to 135 yards Saturday. “I mean, it came after a rough stretch of 4s and then I hit a good shot and it went in,” said Ortiz, who is 3-over for the tournament. “So it was kind of unexpected.”

Worth mentioning

▪  Varner III had a 2-over day and is at 1 under for the tournament. He offered a semi-apology to his friends in the gallery he didn’t acknowledge, saying he’s having to remind himself that he’s here to play golf. “I think I’m doing a really good job of it,” he said.

▪  Hahn’s approach at 9 went long and left of the pin, and the ball ended up in a spectator’s chair armrest. He dropped, chipped to 6 feet and made his par putt.

▪  Chris Stroud got some unusual help on 18 when his drive, rather than going to the right and in the rough, hit off the head of a tournament worker and bounded at least 40 yards ahead in the fairway for a 325-yard drive. The man was OK, and Stroud checked on him before giving him a signed ball.

They said it

“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 in the final round.” – Castro, who will be paired with Fowler on Sunday.

“Maybe a little bit too far back, but at least I can go out there tomorrow and try to give it my all and try to post a good one.” – McIlroy, who came back from 10 strokes down to win in 2010, but that was after the second round.

“It’s a good pin. Everyone has to play it. I didn’t set up the course. I think it’s in great shape...It’s not like it was impossible. So yeah, people are going to complain. They’re pretty good at that, so I’m going to sit here and do my job.” – Varner, whose birdie putt on 13 rolled off the green and into the fairway.

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