By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
It’s appropriate that the man at the top of the Greenbrier Classic leaderboard is named Every.
Nearly every golfer left in the field has a shot at the title.
With two rounds left to play on The Old White TPC, 34 golfers are within five shots of the lead, held by 29-year-old Matt Every at 9-under-par, and all 81 golfers who will play the weekend are within eight shots.
“It’s coming down to the end of the year,” said Every, who is looking for his first PGA TOUR win. “A lot of guys are trying to get inside the FedEx (Cup playoff) or the top 125 on the money list to keep their job next year. So it’s a big week for a lot of people.”
His vault to the top of the pack came via a spectacular round of 62 on a day where nobody else on the course posted anything lower than 65. The former University of Florida golfer, who has won once on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com) for his only professional victory, played a bogey-free round that included eight birdies. Starting on the back, Every birdied the first two holes and then made the turn at 4-under on the round. He began the front with a birdie on No.1 and closed out the round with birdies on Nos. 5 and 7.
“I played really well tee to green, and finally made some putts,” he said. “I haven’t made anything all year, and it finally happened.”
One of the last players to finish his round, Every broke what would have been a six-way tie for the top spot. Instead, five are tied for second place at 8-under, including Johnson Wagner, who was tied for the lead after the opening day.
“I’m excited,” said Wagner, a former Virginia Tech Hokie, who carded an even-par 70 after a 62 on Thursday. “I haven’t made a cut in seven tournaments, much less been in contention, so it’s really nice.”
The others in the group tied for second are Daniel Summerhays, Bill Lunde, Steven Bowditch and Russell Henley.
Four others are two strokes back at 7-under, including the other first-round leader, Tommy Gainey, and 2003 Open Championship winner Ben Curtis.
“It’s still early, still a lot of golf to be played, but obviously I’ll go out (Saturday) and try to shoot a good number,” said Curtis, who last won on the PGA TOUR last April when he defeated Every and John Huh to win the Valero Texas Open. “Obviously with the conditions being soft, I’ll be aggressive, especially with some short irons in my hand.”
Not every golfer’s trip around the historic course was as pleasant as those for the guys at the top.
Phil Mickelson carded his first under-par round in six tries at The Greenbrier Classic with a 68, but he still finished 2-over-par for the tournament, three strokes off the cut line.
Other notables who will be home for the weekend include 2010 Greenbrier Classic champion Stuart Appleby, 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, three-time Major winner Vijay Singh and West Virginia Amateur champion Pat Carter.
The biggest charge of the day came from 33-year-old Australian Matt Jones, who entered the 13th hole on Friday’s round at 1-over-par for the tournament.
An incredible string of six straight birdies suddenly took him from below the cut line into the top 20. He’ll enter the third round at 5-under, just four shots off the pace.
With Mickelson watching the weekend via CBS once again, Bubba Watson has likely assumed the role as the biggest current star left in the field. The 2012 Masters winner is still in contention at 3-under for the tournament, but he was adamant after his Friday round that he should be in a much better spot.
“I hit the ball great again, just made no putts,” said the visibly frustrated former Georgia Bulldog. “I only made two birdies, one bogey. I’m just not making any putts.
“I’m not very good at reading (the greens), I guess. I guess I’m illiterate. I just can’t get the ball in the hole. I’m hitting the ball great, feel great, confident and everything, but the ball’s just not going in right now, and that’s golf.”
The good news for the Bagdad, Fla., native is that he’s still in a spot where he can make some noise if his putting stroke suddenly returns.
“This weekend, I have to come out and shoot something really low for two days and hopefully I can scare the leader on Sunday,” he said. “I’m playing the weekend; I’ve got a chance to move up and to get better. That’s the name of the game. If you don’t scare the lead, you’re still practicing for the next time you come out.”
The “other Watson,” golfing legend Tom Watson, will also have the chance to play two more rounds this weekend. The Greenbrier’s pro emeritus, and the winner of eight Major Championships, carded a 1-under-par 69 on Friday to move to 3-under for the tournament. The 63-year-old, who’s the captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup team, is still enjoying competing with golfers half his age.
“I played very well from tee to green,” he said of his second round. “My putter was very balky today. I did make one good one on the last hole. I changed my stroke, and that gives me some confidence about maybe what I did with that stroke is maybe what I need to do. Because I was struggling on the greens today.
“I hit the ball very, very well, and, like (Thursday), I missed a lot of putts.”
Turning back the clock on some of the game’s big hitters has made this week’s experience more rewarding than ever, but Watson said he always enjoys time at The Greenbrier, regardless of his golf game.
“The Greenbrier is — as Jim Justice said — America’s great resort,” said Watson. “It’s a wonderful place to come. You should see the families and the kids out here. From the falconry to the sporting clays to the fishing to the tennis, they’ve got everything here. You don’t have any problem finding some things to do here at The Greenbrier.”
Watson isn’t sporting the only gray hairs out on The Old White TPC this week. At 52 years old, Kenny Perry, coming off a win in the Senior Players Championship last week, believes he still has the skills to keep up with the next generation of golfers.
“My game’s still good enough to compete out here,” he said after carding a 3-under 67 Friday to move to 5-under for the tournament. “I don’t know if I would win on a regular basis like I could in the past, but I still feel like I hit it far enough. I still putt well enough, so to me that gives me a lot of confidence and it makes it fun when I do come out here and compete. Because I still think I can compete with them.
“It’s an amazing game. They hit it so much further than I do now. I used to be one of the longer guys, and now I’m just an average hitter out here.”
John Daly, still a fan favorite at The Greenbrier Classic, withdrew before Friday’s second round, leaving fans asking what had happened to the two-time Major winner with the flashy pants.
Daly put a message on his Twitter account saying that he needs elbow surgery and would miss at least three months.
The gates will open at 8 a.m. today for the third round of competition. After play is completed, rock legends Aerosmith will entertain players and fans at the State Fair Events Center in Fairlea. The concert is scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. start.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.