By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
With darkness falling on the Old White TPC course Friday at The Greenbrier Classic, Webb Simpson stepped into the spotlight.
The 2012 U.S. Open winner dropped a six-foot putt into the cup on the par-3 18th to finish off a round of 66 and take the outright lead at the third-year PGA TOUR event. Simpson, who carded a 65 on Thursday, played a bogey-free round and moved to 9-under for the tournament, one stroke ahead of a group of five at 8-under.
“The best thing about today’s round is no bogeys,” said Simpson, who also had four birdies Friday. “I played solid. I had chances, and it was tough to let a couple get by me on the back nine. But it was nice to birdie the last.”
There will be plenty of competition over the weekend for Simpson, who currently stands third in FedEx Cup points.
Jonathan Byrd, Charlie Beljan, Jeff Maggert, Jerry Kelly and Martin Flores are all within a stroke, while J.B. Holmes and Charlie Wi are at 7-under. Simpson was tied for the lead at last year’s Greenbrier Classic after two rounds, but he finished two shots out of the playoff after a 70 on Sunday.
“I was confident last year; I’m confident this year,” Simpson explained. “I don’t think a whole lot has changed. I learned a lot about myself in the final round last year.
“I’ve got a long ways to go, a bunch of good players right there.”
The group in pursuit won’t include either Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, the game’s two biggest stars. Both struggled through the first two rounds and missed the cut, which fell at 1-under.
The round of the day Friday came from the little-known Beljan — like the waffle and the chocolate, he said — who hasn’t won a professional event anywhere besides the Gateway Tour, a third-level tour in Phoenix, Ariz., where he played from 2008 through 2011, winning seven times.
The former University of New Mexico All-American shot the low round of the tournament with a 62. That, combined with an even-par 70 on Thursday, put him at 8-under for the tournament and just one shot behind the leader.
“Today was the best day of my career,” said Beljan, shortly after his round. “It was wonderful from the first hole, making birdie, to the last hole. I made bogey (on No. 9; Beljan started his day on No. 10), but it still didn’t matter. I shot 62, which was my career low round out here.”
Beljan, who has now birdied 11 of the 36 holes he’s played on the Old White TPC course, has hit better than 86 percent of greens in regulation this week, but he knows he has to keep it going if he really wants to make a run toward the top.
“I’m only halfway there,” he said, before explaining he’s only seen the media room on the PGA TOUR on TV before Friday. “I look forward to the weekend. I’m sure it’s going to be a zoo, and I look forward to it.”
It was also a day to remember for 45-year-old Jerry Kelly, who limped around the course on his way to a bogey-free 66 for the second day in a row.
“I’m making good par saves,” he said. “I haven’t made a bogey yet. I’m sure that won’t happen throughout the entire golf tournament, but when you save the pars, it’s just as good as a birdie bogey.”
Also a member of the over-40 club, 48-year-old Maggert couldn’t go quite as low on Friday as he did in the opening round, when he shot a 64, but a 68 still left him in a great spot.
“I’m just trying to take it one day at a time right now,” he said. “My game has really been all over the map this year, but I’ve had some instances where I’ve played really, really well. So hopefully this weekend will kind of get me back into a good form.”
The oldest competitor for the weekend, though, will be 62-year-old Tom Watson, The Greenbrier’s Pro Emeritus. Watson posted a 68 on Friday and is 2-under for the tournament.
Watson didn’t play in the inaugural Greenbrier Classic because of a previous commitment, and he missed the cut last year by one stroke.
But he was insistent that his work this week isn’t complete.
“I’m not here to enjoy the weekend,” said the always competitive Watson, an eight-time major winner. “I’m here to compete and play my best and see if I can do better than 68 the last two rounds, you know, shoot a middle-60s round out there. But it’s going to take some real skills.”
Flores actually could be the leader heading into the third round. The 30-year-old PGA TOUR rookie, who made the big tour after finishing No. 24 on the Nationwide Tour last year, played 16 holes on Friday. He’ll have the difficult par-5 17th and the short par-3 18th to play this morning to finish his round.
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The Greenbrier Classic is continuing to make an attempt to reach out to the victims of the storm that tore through parts of West Virginia last week.
The Greenbrier has established relief aid centers in Alderson (at the football field), Renick (at the firehouse across from the cemetery) and Rainelle (City Hall). The new centers will be open today from noon until 8 p.m., and will supply bags of ice, bottled water and Greenbrier produce. The sites will also serve lunch and dinner.
The Greenbrier also announced that ticket holders for the event who were not able to attend, due to the power and water outages, may receive equivalent tickets for the 2013 Greenbrier Classic or a refund in return for a full, unused ticket package.
To qualify for the credit or refund, individuals must send their full, unused ticket packages, for both the tournament and the concerts, by certified mail no later than July 20 to: The Greenbrier, 300 W. Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., 24986. If any ticket in the package has been scanned, the credit or refund will not be granted.
For more information on the refund, contact Habibi Andre at (304) 536-5322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Friday’s second round was delayed for more than two hours, after thunder and lightning made their way through Greenbrier County. Play was stopped at 3:35 p.m., after a storm warning was issued, and after a few loud booms of thunder and a quick rain, play picked up again at 6.
At 8:45, the horn was sounded due to darkness. Players were allowed to finish the hole they were on at that point, but 12 players will still have to finish up the second round when play begins this morning. Those players will go back to where they left the course Friday this morning at 8:30 a.m.
The third round will begin with players going off of split tees once the second round is completed.
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Rocco Mediate withdrew from The Greenbrier Classic prior to the start of his second round Friday. He was scheduled to go off the first tee at 12:50 p.m., after opening with a 75 on Thursday. The withdrawal ended his consecutive cuts made streak at five.