The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 9, 2014

Greenbrier Classic expecting another ‘magnificent field’

In just 52 days, southern West Virginia will become the epicenter of the golfing world once again as many of the PGA Tour’s best hit the fairways of The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC course for the fifth year of The Greenbrier Classic.

Just who those players will be is still somewhat of a mystery.

While tournament director Monte Ortel said his staff has received some verbal commitments from players, those names won’t be officially announced until they are confirmed with the PGA Tour, sometime around the end of this month. Ortel said this policy prevents the tournament from announcing participants, only to see them withdraw.

Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, though, said fans can expect plenty of big names when this year’s event is held June 30 through July 6 in White Sulphur Springs.

“We don’t have a lot of big names yet, but every day we’re getting more players,” said Justice. “It’s such a popular event. We will have a magnificent field.”

Masters champion Bubba Watson, who is playing this week at The Players Championship with a chance to move to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, has been confirmed. The Greenbrier ambassador is in the process of building a home at The Greenbrier after “falling in love” with the property during his first visit for the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.

Ryder Cup captain and Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson has also indicated that he will play in this year’s event, and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, another Greenbrier ambassador, is also likely to participate. That gives The Greenbrier Classic a great starting point.

Over the first four years of the tournament, Justice has seen the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and many others try to navigate The Old White’s historic layout, but he’s always working to make the field bigger and better.

Justice said his staff has reached out to “just about everybody,” including Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Adam Scott about playing in this year’s event.

Getting European players, though, is a difficult task as many choose to stay oversees in preparation for The British Open, which is just two weeks after The Greenbrier Classic. The French Open on the European Tour is the same week as the event at The Greenbrier, while the Scottish Open is the next week, leading into the 143rd Open Championship.

Back in the states, fans’ attention always turns to Woods, who played The Greenbrier Classic in 2012.

The current world No. 1, at least for a few more days, is rehabbing from back surgery and hasn’t played a competitive event since the first week of March. He said on his website Monday that his recovery “is coming along, but it’s a very slow process.” He said he didn’t know when he would return, saying, “Some people heal up in three months, some people take four months, some people take a little longer. I just don’t know.”

Woods already missed The Masters, and if he’s out three months after his March surgery, he’ll also miss the second major championship of the year, the U.S. Open June 12-15 at Pinehurst Resort.

The next major is the British Open, July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Merseyside, England.

If Woods hopes to make that tournament, he would likely make his return a couple weeks prior, making The Greenbrier Classic an almost perfect spot to make his return.

“Wouldn’t that be something if his first tournament back was with us?” said Justice. “We’re sure keeping our fingers crossed, and we’re waiting with open arms if he wants to come. It’s a real possibility.”

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While stands are being erected now on The Old White TPC in preparation for the state’s premier sporting event, there’s also plenty of work taking place at The State Fair of West Virginia, the home of The Greenbrier Classic concert series.

Justice said they’ve spent a lot of money at the amphitheater in the free parking lot across from the fairgrounds, trying to improve the venue and “make it a little easier for fans to come and enjoy the concert.”

“There won’t be a bad seat in the house now,” said Justice.

This year’s concert series features Maroon 5 on July 4 and Jimmy Buffett on July 5.

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There’s also been some construction on The Greenbrier Classic website at www.greenbrierclassic.com. Tournament officials announced Thursday that the site has been completely revamped and provides “new features and increased functionality across smartphones, tablets and computers.”

— E-mail: chuffman

@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter

@CamHuffmanRH.

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