By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
One was a four-time Major Championship winner who has won 41 times on the PGA TOUR and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Another was the 2012 Masters winner and one of the most popular players in golf. The third was a PGA TOUR sophomore who has won just one time on the PGA TOUR and is known more for sharing a last name with a fictional wizard than his accomplishments on the links.
Ted Potter Jr. — the third man on that list — played the role of the unlikely hero Thursday and Friday when those three — Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson the other two — were grouped for the first two rounds of the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.
While Mickelson hit fans, water and seemingly everything but the fairway through parts of his first 36 holes — missing the cut for the third straight year — and Watson struggled to take advantage of his solid ball striking with some struggles on the green, Potter, the defending Greenbrier Classic champion, went about his business.
Looking at galleries three or four times what he’s seen anywhere else — except maybe on the three playoff holes that led to his only PGA TOUR win last July — Potter stayed calm and collected and looked more like the superstar of the group than the third wheel.
“I felt pretty good,” said Potter. “(It was the) first time I played with both of them, and it’s pretty neat to have three lefties in the group. So that was interesting. I felt like I handled it pretty well out there, especially with some big galleries, which I’m not used to. So I definitely felt good about it.”
Potter, who’s used to playing with some of the lesser-known players on the TOUR, instead of the game’s biggest stars, admitted he was surprised by the grouping, but if he felt any pressure, it didn’t show.
Thursday’s round was full of peaks and valleys. He had three birdies in the first five holes but had a double-bogey and two bogeys over the last 11. Birdies on Nos. 10 and 16, though, allowed him to finish with a 1-under-par 69.
Friday’s round couldn’t have started any worse. Potter bogeyed the par-4 10th to start his round, but he found the composure that Mickelson couldn’t after has bad holes, following the double with a birdie and then recording five more — including near holes-in-one on Nos. 8 and 18 — before the round was over to card a 4-under 66. He sits at 5-under heading into the weekend.
“I didn’t get off to a good start on No. 10, that’s for sure,” said Potter. “But I bounced back on No. 11 and made birdie there.
“I birdied 18. I guess I like 18 a lot. I hit a pretty good shot in there both days now. All in all, it was a very good day for me.”
n n n
Although the results for Potter have been much the same as his four trips around The Old White TPC a year ago — he carded rounds of 69, 67, 64 and 64 to finish with a 264 to get his way into a playoff, which he eventually won over Troy Kelly with a dramatic birdie on No. 18 — Potter said it’s a much different course he’s playing this time around. The rain that the greens and fairways have soaked up in recent days has greatly changed the play.
“It’s so much softer this year,” said Potter. “Last year, it played a lot shorter. The fairways were a lot firmer, so the ball rolled 20, 30 yards when you hit your tee shots. And the greens definitely released a lot more, so you have a couple that actually stopped.
“This year, you have to almost land it behind the hole and spin in back to the hole. So it’s definitely a lot softer this year.”
n n n
Potter’s grouping also allowed him to get the front row seat that so many of the spectators were hoping to find. He witnessed first-hand Mickelson’s struggles on each of the first two days.
So what advice did Potter have for his fellow lefty?
“I mean, I just said thanks,” said the Ocala, Fla., native with a chuckle. “That’s the first time I ever played with him. I don’t know what to say to him like that.
“I know it’s the third time he missed the cut, but I’m sure he’ll be all right. He’ll get over it and be back next year and try to break the curse.”
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.