WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
“The guys are good; these guys are real good” the PGA Tour commercial advertises.
The first page of the leaderboard for the 2014 Greenbrier Classic has been littered with red numbers. Troy Matteson and runner-up George McNeill each fired rounds of 61 during the week.
Entering Sunday’s final round, the top three players — leader Billy Hurley III, Angel Cabrera and Kevin Chappell — had played each of the previous three rounds under par.
But don’t be fooled. The Old White TPC was a stern test for these tour professionals.
Ten of the holes played to an average of over par, and four others played only slightly below par.
What does this mean? It means scoring opportunities were at a minimum.
The most devilish hole on the course was the par-4 13th, a slight dogleg right measuring 492 yards. It plays slightly uphill with trees lining the right side and a sleepy creek running along the left. The tee shot has trees lining both sides and forces the players to hit driver or face a very long approach shot.
One eagle and 44 birdies were recorded on No. 13, as opposed to 107 bogeys and 15 double-bogeys.
Jonas Blixt, the 2013 Greenbrier Classic champion, played the 13th in 5-over-par on his way to last year’s championship.
Pre-qualifier Jeff Curl failed to make the cut due in large part to the evil 13th. Curl played 34 of his 36 holes in 1-under-par. However, two double-bogeys on the 13th pushed his score to 3-over-par to miss the two-day cut.
Five of the holes on the front nine played over par, and three basically played at even-par. Only the par-4 9th hole allowed the players on average to gain strokes to par.
The two par-5 holes on the back nine played the easiest for the first three rounds, as they often do for the long hitting tour professionals.
The two holes combined to yield 17 eagles and 348 birdies against only 56 bogeys.
Ironically, third-round leader Hurley attained his 12-under-par total with just one birdie on each of the par-5 holes. Cabrera, however, recorded three birdies and an eagle over the two holes through three rounds.
So the way to score low at the Old White TPC course is survive the front nine, make your move on the back nine and don’t let No. 13 derail your round, correct? Well, not so fast, my friend.
Cabrera made his move to the top of the leaderboard with a four-day total of 9-under-par on the front and an eagle on the devilish 13th by holing his approach shot. McNeill blistered the front nine Sunday with a 6-under par 28 en route to final round 61. Webb Simpson shot a front nine score of 31 to jumpstart his move up the leaderboard to third place.
But, while you may seem to be on top of the game of golf, it is usually for a short period. Steve Stricker started Sunday in contention before a 3-over-par 37 on the front nine ended his chances to win. Hurley obtained his lead through three rounds by playing the front nine at 8-under-par, but was stung Sunday when he played the front nine at 2-over-par, knocking him out of the lead.
So the true answer to being successful at The Greenbrier Classic is to play the tough front nine well, better than the average numbers. Then play well on the holes one would expect to score well, like the back nine par-5s and short par-4s. Do that and you can be the next person to slip on the green jacket awarded to the champion of The Greenbrier Classic.
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