By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Several favorable pin positions and some sunny weather led to some good rounds Saturday at The Greenbrier Classic, but it did little to break up a field grouped tighter than billiard balls before the break.
Former Virginia Tech golfer Johnson Wagner continued his strong play, shooting a 64 to match the low round of the day and hold the outright lead at 14-under-par for the tournament entering today’s final round.
Jimmy Walker, though, wouldn’t let Wagner get too much breathing room. He used a run of four birdies in five holes to card a bogey-free round of 64. He’s two strokes back at 12-under.
“I like the golf course; I’ve always liked it,” said Walker, who already has two top 10 finishes at The Greenbrier Classic. “The first time we came here, we really enjoyed it, just the whole atmosphere. Everybody’s so nice, and everybody’s so accommodating. The hotel is amazing, and I just really enjoyed being here and the golf course really seems to fit my eye.
“I like the tee shots. I like the second shots, and I feel comfortable. So when you feel comfortable at places, you tend to play well.”
Fifteen others sit within seven strokes of the lead, including Jonas Blixt, alone in third at 10-under, and a group of three at 9-under that includes rising star Jordan Spieth, who’s done everything but win on the PGA TOUR.
“I felt a lot better out there today, really felt calm the whole day,” said the 19-year-old, who’s still just a temporary member on the PGA TOUR. “I think (Sunday) I should be in the last three groups. I think I’ll have a good idea of what’s going on around me, and I think I’ll handle it a little better. If I don’t win, it doesn’t really do much for me, because I have to win to be in the (FedEx Cup) playoffs. I’m just going out there free swinging, and that’s a great place to be, I think.”
Matt Jones — who began Saturday’s round with a birdie to run his streak to seven straight, after six straight birdies to end the second round on Friday — is also at 9-under. He was in danger of missing the cut before Friday’s spectacular run.
“The rules officials have done a great job setting up the course and making it playable, especially with the conditions we’ve had,” said Jones, who admitted he didn’t even realize how special the run he had Friday was, thinking it was five birdies instead of six. “It will be interesting to see what they do (Sunday). The greens are definitely firming up with the sun out there, and they’re not sticking as much as they were.”
Last week’s winner, Bill Haas, is well within striking distance at 8-under, part of a group of six golfers at that number, while defending Greenbrier Classic champion Ted Potter Jr. is at 6-under after a 69 Saturday.
Bubba Watson, the most recognizable name left in the field, is 10 strokes back at 4-under.
Not everybody took advantage of the favorable conditions. Matt Every held the lead after Friday’s round at 9-under but got off to an awful start Saturday, carding bogeys on four of his first seven holes. He started to recover with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, but double bogeys on 13 and 14 ruined his chances of taking a place among the leaders. He’ll enter today’s round at 5-under for the tournament.
Eighty-one players took the course Saturday, but 10 were cut after the third round. D.J. Trahan, Scott Brown, Dicky Pride, Allstair Presnell, Neal Lancaster, Fabian Gomez, Gary Christian, Ben Crane, Erik Compton and Brad Adamonis will not be around for the final 18 holes.
Wagner, though, was in no danger of an early exit. The Charlotte, N.C., native continued to please the maroon and white-clad Hokie fans who lined the fairways just 75 miles from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. Wagner’s round included seven birdies, with the only blemish a bogey on the par-4 seventh hole.
Six of those birdies came within the first 11 holes, and after a run of five straight pars, he birdied the par-3 18th to take some confidence into the final 18 holes.
“It was a very good round,” said Wagner, a three-time PGA TOUR winner, who hadn’t made a cut in his last seven starts. “I felt comfortable starting out. I got rolling with a birdie early, and they just kept dropping. So the bogey on 7 didn’t bother me.
“I had a bunch of good looks on the back nine. I made one nice par putt on 13, but other than that, it was a fairly stress-free round.”
The final round will begin today with tee times at 8:30 a.m. The final pairing of Wagner and Walker will tee off at 2 p.m.
“That’s the reason we all play golf, to have a chance to win on Sunday,” said Wagner, who hopes to be a part of the awards ceremony scheduled for approximately 6 p.m. on the 18th green. “And there’s no better place to do that than from the final group with the lead.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.