By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
With the sun setting behind the trees and some lingering clouds hanging in the West Virginia mountains, the setting surrounding the 18th green on The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC Sunday evening was as the brochures describe it — almost Heaven.
Jonas Blixt was able to scratch off the almost.
Battling to finish his round before the daylight disappeared after a three-plus-hour weather delay for rain and thunder, the 29-year-old Swede overcame bogeys on the 11th and 13th holes, and a birdie on the par-4 16th helped close the door on his second PGA TOUR victory.
Blixt, who came into Sunday’s final round in third place at 10-under-par, finished with a final round 67. It was his third straight 67 after beginning the week with a 4-under-par 66 on Thursday.
“This has been a very bad year for me,” said Blixt, who joins Stuart Appleby (2010), Scott Sallings (2011) and Ted Potter Jr. (2012) on the list of Greenbrier Classic winners. “To pull it out, I can’t believe it. I’m just really happy this time that I get to go home and see my family.”
A foursome of golfers finished in second place — some who moved up and others who moved down.
Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones did the most to put pressure on Blixt, both recording 68s to finish at 11-under.
“All in all, it’s my best finish on the PGA TOUR, so I’m over the moon,” said Bowditch. “It’s one step closer to securing my job for next year.
“I think my best finish before this was tied for ninth, so this is far and away the best finish. I’m looking forward to next week and hopefully keep going.”
Johnson Wagner, who held a two-stroke lead when the day began, saw his chance at a victory in front of legions of Virginia Tech Hokie fans hanging on his every shot, fade away. Wearing maroon and orange pants and an orange hat, the former Virginia Tech golfer played the front nine at even-par, but he bogeyed three of the last eight holes to card a final-round 73 to join the group at 11-under.
“Nerves got the best of me,” Wagner said, candidly. “I think I started looking at the leaderboard after I bogeyed 11. That’s what’s so disappointing. I just didn’t putt well, which is my strength. I’m really disappointed.”
Jimmy Walker was the other golfer tied for second. His final-round 71 included only two bogeys, but the only birdie of the round on No. 5 wasn’t enough.
“I just didn’t get the putts to go in today,” said Walker. “The golf course softened up a little bit after the rain, and I think I just struggled a little bit with the speed, left a few putts short today. I think that was the difference.”
Walker did take home a nice consolation prize, though, as he qualified for the Open Championship with the points he received for second place.
“That’s great,” said Walker. “I’ve never played the British. I hear Muirfield is pretty awesome, so I’m excited. I’ll get ready.”
Walker, and many of the golfers in the final pairings, spent a large portion of the day believing they’d be back on the Old White TPC today to finish things up.
The thunder and rain that came just before 2 p.m. and delayed the final-round action left the final pairing of Wagner and Walker with a 5 p.m. tee time — after originally planning for a 2 p.m. start.
The chances of finishing before darkness set in seemed unlikely as Beckley native Slugger White, the PGA TOUR’s vice president of rules and competitions, told his longtime friend, Greenbrier chairman and CEO Jim Justice, that there was no way they’d finish Sunday.
Plans were made for an 8 a.m. start to complete the tournament today, but Justice kept belief that they could finish on Sunday. Just before 9 p.m., when neither Wagner nor Walker could find a miracle ace on No. 18, they did.
“Thank you to all the wonderful people who came and supported us,” said an enthusiastic Justice during the trophy presentation on the 18th green. “We could never do it without you, and we finished.
“New dreams are born at The Greenbrier. We feel like it’s magical here.”
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Blixt played collegiately at Florida State University, where he was a first-team All-American in 2008. He turned pro that same year and earned his spot on the PGA TOUR in 2012 after finishing fifth on the Nationwide Tour money list the previous season.
He picked up his first professional win at the Frys.com Open in October.
“My coach when I was a kid used to say, ‘Once is luck; twice is skill,’” said Blixt, who now calls Jacksonville Beach, Fla., his home. “That was about my 7-iron. So thank you Thomas Hunter for telling me that. It’s cool to back it up.”
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Blixt took home $1,134,000 for the winner’s share of the $6.3 million purse, and he moved from 139th to 39th on the FedEx Cup points list.
He also picked up an invitation to the 2014 Masters, perhaps the biggest perk of the victory.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I mean, I watched it when I was a kid, and I always wanted to play there. I went there a couple years ago, and I watched. To be there looked exciting.
“It’s just a special place, almost a religious experience just being there. And to play, I’ve got no words for it.”
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Bubba Watson’s first trip to The Greenbrier Classic didn’t end the way he had hoped. He finished in a tie for 30th at 5-under-par, but the 2012 Masters champion said he enjoyed every moment of his week at “America’s Resort.”
“I would say it’s about 99 (out of 100),” the former Georgia Bulldog said. “The atmosphere and everything was great. My golf was the 1 percent that’s missing. The whole place is beautiful. I’ve looked at every hill in this property here, been around Jim (Justice’s) other properties and goofed around. Me and my child went to the pool a lot, did the falconry, we fed the donkeys, fed the horses; we did everything you can possibly do.
“So it’s been a blast here, and hopefully I look forward to coming back here and enjoying it and playing some better golf.”
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Golf legend Tom Watson finished the tournament at 4-under-par after a final-round 67. The 63-year-old finished tied for 38th.
The 4-under score matched that of the youngest player in the field, 19-year-old amateur Michael Kim, who also finished with a 276 for the four rounds.
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Luke List, who finished tied for 59th at 1-under-par for the tournament, had the shot of the final round, and maybe the tournament, when he aced the par-3 eighth early in the day.
It was List’s first PGA TOUR hole-in-one. He used a 5-iron from 229 yards away. It was the 22nd hole-in-one on the PGA TOUR in 2013.
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Peter Hanson withdrew during the final round with a back injury. He was in a group tied for 27th when the final round began.
— E-mail: chuffman@
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