By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
There’s a Tiger roaring on The Old White TPC course at The Greenbrier. It’s just not the one everybody was expecting.
Jonathan Byrd — one of four Tigers of the Clemson variety in this year’s Greenbrier Classic, joining Tom Biershenk, Lucas Glover and D.J. Trahan — fired a 2-under-par 68 Friday to sit at 8-under for the tournament. He is one of five golfers tied for second, one stroke behind leader Webb Simpson after play was suspended due to darkness, and in perfect position to make a run at his sixth PGA TOUR victory this weekend.
Byrd, who said he’s tried to keep his Clemson connection quiet this week, because he wanted to avoid too much harassment from the huge contingent of West Virginia fans in the gallery, did something both days his Tigers weren’t able to do against the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl — keep the score under 70.
“I made eight birdies (Thursday), five birdies (Friday),” said Byrd, who was 1-over through 11 Friday, before picking up birdies on three of the last seven holes. “(I was) a little disappointed in some of the bogeys, I made three bogeys, but anytime I’m making five birdies a round, I’m doing a lot of things good. I was proud of the way I finished.”
While Clemson was looking at Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense for the first time in Miami last January, Byrd is playing this week with the advantage of experience. The 34-year-old tied for 21st in the inaugural Greenbrier Classic in 2010, shooting 12-under for the week, and he got a look at the course that played very different last year, although he missed the cut after finishing 10-over in two rounds.
This year, he feels almost like a veteran.
“I think it’s position, you know, positioning yourself on the golf course,” he said of the keys to playing well on the 7,274-yard Old White TPC, originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor in 1914. “I think every golf course, the more you play it, the more you get comfortable on it, just knowing where the hole locations are and what kind of angle you want to be coming in from.
“I’m just trying to keep it in play,” he continued. “I think you don’t have to always attack this course and hit driver on every hole. You know, you just kind of move it around and keep it in the fairway, and you just get a lot of wedges in your hand, a lot of short irons. After playing here the last three years, I’ve got a really good knack for reading the greens.”
Byrd’s play the last two days is even more impressive when considering he hasn’t been feeling at his best recently. He’s been experiencing some upper respiratory problems the last couple weeks, and spent much of his first two rounds, as well as his time in the interview room, trying to control his cough.
“They always say beware of the sick golfer or the injured golfer,” he said, downplaying the impact of his illness. “There’s a lot to that, because you don’t quite have the energy to get as mad at yourself and kind of let things fall off. Plus, your expectations sometimes go down a little bit.
“So, I’ve played some of my best golf when I haven’t felt great about my game or have been fighting something. But, obviously, I would rather be feeling healthier.”
If he can keep it up, maybe he can get a little revenge for his Tigers. With his brother Jordan, the assistant golf coach at Clemson, carrying his bag, which is adorned with an orange Tiger paw, it’s a little hard to keep his allegiances secret. But, so far, he’s heard little from the Mountaineer faithful.
“They’ve been very kind,” he said with a laugh. “Thanks for bringing that up.”