Mayfair atop Quail Hollow; Mickelson lurks

Mayfair atop Quail Hollow; Mickelson lurks

Published May. 1, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

Billy Mayfair has a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Quail Hollow Championship, a position that seemed unlikely when he was racing to the golf course to make his tee time for a Monday qualifier.

Finishing off an amazing week with his first victory in 12 years might be just as difficult.

Mayfair never lost the lead during a mad scramble to catch him Saturday, finishing with two strong pars for a 1-under 71 that gave him the lead over Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Carolina favorite Davis Love III.

``Today was a real test for me,'' Mayfair said. ``I kept it going for 18 holes and still have the lead going into tomorrow.''

Mickelson, in his first start since winning a third green jacket, overcame food poisoning at the start of the week and a few errant shots to put himself in a great position to join a strong list of champions at Quail Hollow.

He birdied the par 5s on the back nine, and escaped with par on the final hole with a two-putt from 60 feet. Mickelson purposely left the flag in the cup on his first putt because he wasn't aiming at the hole, wanting to avoid any chance of the ball running down a slope. He knocked in a 6-footer for par and a 71.

Love birdied three of his last five holes for a 4-under 68 and will play in the final group with Mayfair.

Mayfair was at 9-under 207.

For a tournament that no longer has Tiger Woods, who missed the cut, it is not lacking in star power. Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera had a 73 and was in the group at 6-under 210 that included Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson (72) and J.J. Henry (71).

Another shot back is Jim Furyk, who already has won twice this year. Furyk had a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole that caught the lip and spun 5 feet away, he wound up three-putting for bogey. He still shot 71 and is right in the mix.

So is Rory McIlroy, who had to make eagle on his 16th hole Friday to make the cut on the number. Playing early Saturday, McIlroy made birdie on half of his holes for a 66. By the end of the day, he was only four shots out of the lead.

Ten players were within four shots of the top, a margin that doesn't seem so large considering how long it has been since Mayfair has been tested like this.

The 43-year-old Mayfair is a five-time winner and still the only player to beat Woods in a playoff on the PGA Tour. That was in the 1998 Nissan Open, and he won the Buick Open later that year. That was his last victory.

He sunk to an all-time low in 2009, finishing 157th on the money list to lose his card. That left no status, which is why Mayfair had to Monday qualify. Because of the rain delay in New Orleans last week, he couldn't catch a flight to Charlotte until Monday morning, landed about noon and had 45 minutes to get to the golf course.

He made it just in time, shot 65 to earn one of four spots, and kept right on going. And while he hasn't won a PGA Tour event in a dozen years, Mayfair feels as though he's ready. He takes inspiration from winning anywhere, even matches at his home club in Arizona.

``I won Monday in the qualifier,'' he said. ``I won the Friday game at Whisper Rock a few weeks ago. I beat my wife last Saturday, too, even though I had to give her a whole bunch of shots. Winning is winning.

``I don't think you ever lose that feeling, even though it's been a long time.''

He was tested the most Saturday in the middle of his round, hitting his tee shot into the creek on the par-5 seventh and making a bogey as his lead dropped to one shot. He made a tough par after hitting a tree with his tee shot on the next hole, made a good par save on the ninth, then hit a wedge to about 6 feet for birdie on the 10th.

``Once I birdied 10, I kept the momentum going,'' Mayfair said.

Mickelson didn't have much and was happy to shoot the score he did. He made birdie after hitting a spectator in the head on the par-5 10th, and despite not feeling crisp, made only three bogeys.

Mickelson has never won in his first start after the Masters.

``I didn't have it today,'' Mickelson said. ``I didn't have great control over my ball-striking and missed a number of putts that I probably could have made. But I controlled the misses, I kept the round in check, and because of the difficult conditions was able to shoot a number that kept me in contention for Sunday. So I'm excited about my opportunities tomorrow.''