By Jim Workman
Assistant Managing Editor
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Less than a month ago, Webb Simpson claimed his third career PGA TOUR victory — the U.S. Open no less, for his first major.
That’d be enough to attract a larger gallery of fans in tournaments to follow, for sure.
But there were other factors to consider Thursday in the opening round of The Greenbrier Classic.
His scheduled playing partners for the first two rounds on The Old White TPC are pretty accomplished, too — Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
Which drew a huge wave of fans, who were part of the first sellout for the third-year FedExCup event.
“I think most of those people came out to watch Steve and I, but it was fun,” Simpson joked. “I love playing with both those guys, Tiger and Steve, and it was great to see a lot of fans out there supporting this tournament. I know what this tournament means to the area. It’s just fun to get into that atmosphere and just try to make some birdies.”
Simpson relished the role as part of a marquee attraction, finishing with a 5-under 65 after one round.
“It was a good start,” he said. “I got off to — the whole group got off to a great start the first six, seven holes, and we just had a good time out there. It was windy early, but it kind of died down on the front nine. But I’m pleased and happy with the way I played all around. (My) chipping, ball striking, putting was all kind of solid.”
Winning a U.S. Open certainly changes a golfer’s career, Simpson said. But it doesn’t necessarily change the man.
“It has sunk in now, and more than anything I’m just playing with the confidence that I drew from winning a major,” he said. “I talk to (the media) a lot more now. Off the golf course nothing’s changed. I’m still the same guy, but obviously when it comes to golf (winning) has allowed me to be more confident.”
The Simpson/Woods/Stricker group is scheduled to tee off this afternoon at 1:20 p.m. in the second round from the No. 1 tee.
“The strategy’s the same,” Simpson said. “You’ve obviously got to adapt to the golf course changing, but for the most part our game plan is to go out and try to keep it in play and make some birdies.”
Stricker wrapped up Day One with a 1-under 69, while Woods came in at 1-over 71.
Scott Stallings, the 2011 Greenbrier Classic champion as a mere rookie, is experiencing the event through different circumstances than a year ago.
“It’s a little different,” he said Thursday, after shooting a 3-under 67. “I’m getting my name called (from fans in the crowd). I’m getting ovations. It’s nice. You definitely want to do well as the (defending) champion.”
Stallings was also in a marquee group, with Phil Mickelson and 2010 Greenbrier Classic champ Stuart Appleby. They’ll go at it again today beginning at 8:10 a.m. from the No. 10 tee.
“I’d never played with Phil, so it was good to learn from him,” Stallings said. “But at the end of the day, you want to compete.”
Mickelson shot a 1-over 71. Appleby was at 2-over 72 after the first round.
The final three holes were kind to Stallings, who certainly must have an affection for No. 18, the hole where he birdied twice in the final round — to tie for the lead and eventually win in a playoff last year.
“To make three birdies to finish (Thursday), I was glad I finished strong,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next three days. The (18th) hole changed my life. I love it.”
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