The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

The Greenbrier Classic

July 9, 2012

POTTER’S MAGIC

The Greenbrier Classic

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — There’s a Potter trending on Twitter and popping up on Google searches everywhere, and he doesn’t practice wizardry or attend a special school.

He did, however, display a little magic.

Ted Potter Jr. used an eagle on No. 17 and a birdie on No. 18 to force a playoff, and then pulled off a victory over Troy Kelly on the third sudden death hole to win the 2012 Greenbrier Classic Sunday, his first PGA TOUR win, the conclusion to a bizarre week in which the game’s two biggest stars, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both missed the cut.

“It’s just an amazing feeling right now,” said Potter, minutes after walking off the 18th green, proudly wearing his championship blazer in the media interview room. “Just knowing I’ve got a couple more years out here to have full exemption, to be able to schedule my own tournaments and where I want to play, is going to be nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

He’s also looking forward to playing not only in the British Open in two weeks, but also realizing a lifelong dream by playing in The Masters next April, his first trip around Augusta National.

“I’m very excited about that,” said Potter, who lists playing in Augusta as one of his main goals on his PGA TOUR bio. “I just like to win. I’ve always enjoyed coming down the stretch and having a chance to win.”

Potter’s magic tricks started with four holes remaining. Playing with fellow PGA TOUR rookie Charlie Beljan, Potter, 12-under par at that time, saw the leaders at 15-under and knew he had some work in front of him.

It started on the par-3 15th, when he sank a 49-foot birdie putt to move to 13-under. The drama built on No. 17 when he blasted a 329-yard drive and then reached the green on the par-5 on his second shot, knocking down a 29-foot putt for eagle.

He finished off the round, and became the clubhouse leader, when he put his tee shot on the par-3 18th within five feet of the hole and then put the birdie in the bottom of the cup.

“Making a bomb on 15 there, that turned my hopes around,” he said. “Then some magic came in on 17 and 18 to get me to where I am.”

But even at 16-under for the tournament, Potter still needed a few breaks — or maybe a spell or two — to go his way.

Already at 16-under with four holes to play, Troy Kelly needed only a single birdie to eliminate Potter and claim the trophy for himself.

It didn’t happen.

Kelly, playing in the final pairing with Webb Simpson, posted par on each of the final holes, setting up a dramatic playoff.

The sudden death affair, which had fans packed in tight around the 18th hole, began with a repeat of No. 18, but after both players made par, the action headed back to No. 17.

Potter appeared to have it won there when Kelly put his second shot in the green side bunker and barely got his third out of the hazard. Potter’s third landed five feet from the hole, giving him a birdie putt for the championship.

But after Kelly chipped onto the green and then sank a 22-foot putt for par, Potter missed his short birdie stroke, forcing fans — many of whom had started to head for the exits — to scramble back into place for one more playoff hole.

This time, though, Potter closed the deal.

The left-hander’s tee shot rolled to within five feet of the hole, and he knocked in the putt for birdie and a $1,098,000 paycheck.

“It was just a relief at the time,” said Potter, who said he learned the game from his father, who works maintenance at a course in The Villages in Ocala, Fla., and has never had a professional coach. “All the struggles the last few weeks (Potter had missed five straight cuts before this week), knowing that now I’ve got a couple years to try to improve my game and win some more tournaments.”

Aside from the dramatic conclusion, the 2012 Greenbrier Classic will likely be remembered for Simpson’s inability to finish the job for the second straight year.

The 2012 U.S. Open champion needed only to play par golf for the final nine holes to make what turned out to be a three-man playoff in 2010, but he finished 2-over down the stretch and missed out.

This year, he brought a two-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round, but he bogeyed four of the last seven holes, after carding just one total bogey over the first three rounds, to finish 11-under in a tie for seventh place.

“I felt really confident and then just got on a bad run there,” said Simpson. “I bogeyed 12 from the middle of the fairway, bad tee shot on 13 and then 14 I hit two pretty good shots that went over the green.

“So it was just a tough way to kind of end what was a great tournament.”

Roberto Castro had the low round on Sunday, carding a 63 to finish in a tie with Simpson. Charlie Wi made an impressive stretch run, playing the final seven holes at 4-under. He finished in a tie for third with Beljan, who gave the fans a standing ovation on his way off the 18th green after recording his first top 25 finish in 15 starts.

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PGA TOUR rookie Scott Brown, who was 3-under par heading into Sunday’s final round, withdrew prior to his tee time Sunday after finding out that his wife, Allison, was going into labor in Augusta, Ga. The North Augusta, S.C., native, who won three Division II national championships at USC Aiken, became a father later in the day. The healthy baby girl is named Elizabeth Marie, and the couple will call her Ellie.

- - -

Daniel Summerhay played the final 49 holes of The Greenbrier Classic without a bogey. He finished fifth at 13-under for the tournament.

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World Golf Hall of Fame member Tom Watson, The Greenbrier’s Golf Professional Emeritus, finished tied for 73rd in his 603rd official PGA TOUR start. He made his 496th career cut.

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Potter joined Scott Stallings (2011) and Stuart Appleby (2010) as a Greenbrier Classic champion. Stallings finished tied for 56th this year, while Appleby missed the cut.

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

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