American Pat Perez birdied the final two holes of the treacherous “Green Mile” finish for a seven-under-par 65 and a two-stroke lead at the halfway point of the Quail Hollow Championship on Friday.
Perez powered his way up the leaderboard with a sizzling stretch of five birdies over the final six holes, including three in a row from the 13th. He posted nine birdies and two bogeys in all for a 12-under-par total of 132 at the halfway mark.
The brilliant finish lifted him past overnight pacesetter Bill Haas and Jonathan Byrd. Haas, who opened with a 64, shot two-under-par 70, while fellow American Byrd added a 68 to his first-round 66.
Another stroke back at 135 were four-time major champion Phil Mickelson (66), and 2009 US Open winner Lucas Glover, who registered a 68 after bogeys at 16 and 17.
Rain and lightning interrupted play for nearly 90 minutes for the early starters, but there was no stopping the charge of late finisher Perez, whose only previous USPGA Tour win came at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic.
“I’ve been playing great the last month,” said Perez, who tied for fifth at the Texas Open and shared sixth at The Heritage last month. “This week I guess I just made some more putts and the confidence is just getting more and more each day I play.”
Perez and Mickelson broke up a trio of players with local connections and fan support. Haas, was born in Charlotte, attended nearby Wake Forest University and his father, professional golfer Jay Haas, is a Quail Hollow member.
Byrd and the bearded Glover both attended Clemson University about 160km away.
“Outside of the majors, this would be my No. 1 tournament to win,” Haas said. “When I walk in the clubhouse, everybody I see I know.”
Tied for sixth on eight-under-par 136, four strokes behind Perez, were American Stewart Cink (65), 2005 winner Vijay Singh of Fiji (68) and Sweden’s Carl Pettersson (68), who went to college at North Carolina State.
Among those missing the cut, set at even-par, were Australian Stuart Appleby, who carded a 77 after an opening 68, and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who shot 72 for 147.
McIlroy claimed his first US Tour title at Quail Hollow last year with a sensational final round of 62.