The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 7, 2012

A Classic with no Tiger or Phil still has plenty to offer

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Stop!

Before you log onto StubHub or give those Greenbrier Classic tickets away to the kid down the street, read on. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may not be making strolls around The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC course this weekend, but there are still plenty of reasons you should.

To start with, let’s take a look at some of the golfers who will be around for the final 36 holes.

You wanted to see — or wanted to give your kids the opportunity to see — a legend of the game? How about Tom Watson?

The eight-time major winner, who’s tied for 10th all-time with 29 PGA TOUR wins, first saw The Greenbrier as a member of the 1979 Ryder Cup team. The World Golf Hall of Fame member is now the Pro Emeritus at the Greenbrier, and he’s continued to defy his age. The 62-year-old finished second in the 2009 British Open and 18th at the 2010 Masters. This week, he did something Tiger and Phil couldn’t do with two rounds under par. He’s at 2-under for the tournament, seven shots off the lead.

The leader, Webb Simpson, has all the ingredients necessary to become a future superstar in the game of golf. When he turned professional in 2008, the Raleigh, N.C., native finished 94th on the money list and wasn’t on the radar on the World Golf Rankings.

In 2010, he ended the year 209th on the World Golf Rankings list, but he climbed up to ninth by the end of 2011. This year, after winning his first major at the U.S. Open, he’s all the way up to No. 5, and he has his sights set on the top.

Simpson’s just 26 years old, but he’s already won three times on the PGA TOUR, including the U.S. Open. He has six Top 25 finishes in 15 events this year and appears to be getting more confident every week.

Vijay Singh’s (-3) still around, and so is John Daly (-5). If you’re bringing the kids, they’ll certainly get a kick out of his attire, suited better for the circus than for a PGA TOUR tournament.

Steve Stricker (-4) is heating up — he birdied five of his last six holes after a bogey on No. 12 Friday — and his wife Nicki is serving as his caddie, making for an intriguing storyline.

There are big hitters like Dustin Johnson and J.B. Holmes, a former champion in Scott Stallings and an amateur in Justin Thomas.

Nobody wanted to see an early exit for the game’s biggest stars, but not one of the remaining golfers is going to throw in the towel and give up, either. You’re still going to see some great play over the weekend.

Then there’s the course, which is really the star of The Greenbrier Classic, anyway. Just ask Mickelson, who called the venue “incredible” and said the resort was “one of the best that we have on Tour.” Or talk to Woods, who said he knew he wanted to make the trip to West Virginia after he saw the tournament on TV.

The Old White TPC has hosted players like Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Watson in the past, and it’s also welcomed a number of United States presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, who was one of the first to play the course. The topography is a perfect representation of West Virginia’s beauty, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the trip. If you have seen it, you’re probably already convinced that you want to go back.

Then there’s The Greenbrier itself, which is open for golf fans to tour during the week. Whether it’s throwing a few quarters into a slot machine out the Casino Club, going down in the bunker, once a top-secret location for Congress in the event of an emergency, or sampling some Greenbrier chocolate, there’s plenty to do at the hotel, and a quick shuttle from the course will take you right to the front door.

Finally, if the first two years of the tournament have taught us anything, it’s that there’s always plenty of drama on Sunday.

In 2010, Stuart Appleby became the fifth PGA TOUR player to reach golf’s magic number when he carded a 59 to win the tournament. Last year, The Greenbrier Classic came down to a three-way playoff with Bob Estes, Bill Haas and eventual champion Scott Stallings.

And don’t forget, the course ends with a short par-3. With that setup, anything can happen, and you may regret it if you miss history being made because you let your tickets go to the highest bidder.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com