WILMINGTON, N.C. â€” Francesco Molinari returned to slightly calmer wind and didn’t miss a shot until his final hole Saturday morning, finishing off an even-par 72 for a one-shot lead after 36 holes of the Wells Fargo Championship.
A three-hour rain delay kept the second round from finishing until Saturday morning at Eagle Point. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., was two shots back after a 69.
Dustin Johnson went the other direction. Instead of making up ground, he made the cut with no shots to spare.
In his first tournament since a slip down the stairs knocked Johnson out of the Masters, the world’s No. 1 player made a 20-foot birdie on the 15th hole, only to hit a drive into the pine trees for bogey on No. 16, and a wedge into a bunker for another bogey on the 17th. He wound up with a 75, ending his streak of 13 consecutive rounds at par or better.
All was not lost.
Molinari, who dropped a shot on his closing hole by missing a 5-foot putt, was at 6-under 138. The cut was at 1-over 145, leaving an extraordinarily small gap between the lead and making the cut. The gap typically is about 10 shots at most PGA Tour events, so all 79 players who made the cut were still very much in the game.
Because more than 78 players made the cut, a 54-hole cut to the top 70 and ties loomed in the afternoon. Saturday also figured to a long way toward seeing if anyone could get some separation at Eagle Point Golf Club, which is being used because Quail Hollow Club is preparing to host the PGA Championship in August.
Molinari hit a pair of wedges to short range on the par-5 sixth and No. 8 to reach 7 under. His approach into the wind on No. 9 was off to the right, and his pitch came up short leading to bogey.
John Peterson birdied the 18th hole for a 69 and joined Billy Hurley III and Seamus Power at 5-under 139.
The leading 12 players going into the third round were separated by just two shots. Phil Mickelson, who made a double bogey on his last hole Friday, was five shots behind.
“The leaderboard is really bunched up,” Molinari said. “I need to play as if I was two, three shots behind and keeping hitting good shots.”
Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., was at 2-under 142 after a 72. Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch shot a 71 to sit even at 144.
Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press