By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
They can’t say I didn’t warn them.
My curse came to life again this week as three of my five players to watch at The Greenbrier Classic won’t even be around for the weekend.
Phil Mickelson played better at times and tried to make a run, but for the third straight year he fell short of the needed score to play the final two rounds. Patrick Reed, one of my dark horses, joined “Lefty” at 2-over-par and also packed his bags a little early.
And Jonathan Byrd? He was just nine strokes from posting the absolute worst 36-hole score of the entire tournament. I missed that one worse than Mickelson’s tee shot on No. 17 Thursday.
But there is still hope for my prognostication skills. At lease two of the guys on my list are still around for the final 36 holes. Maybe they didn’t read my column, or maybe a rabbit’s foot in their golf spikes contradicted my spell. But for whatever reason, they stayed safe.
Bill Haas is at 5-under, four shots off the lead, and Bubba Watson, at 3-under, is within six shots and not out of contention just yet.
But the time has come to ruin somebody else’s week. With just two of five remaining, it’s time to reshuffle the 8-ball and take a fresh look at five players to watch heading into the weekend.
1) Bill Haas — I picked this one a full week before the first practice round at The Greenbrier Classic and six days before he broke through with a win at the AT&T National. So there’s no reason to back down now.
Haas is still an incredibly talented player, and he’s finally back to performing at the top of his game. At 5-under for the tournament, he’s birdied 11 holes in two days. Six bogeys have kept the Charlotte, N.C., native from the top of the leaderboard, but he birdied three holes on Friday that he bogeyed on Thursday. If he can continue to make those corrections, there’s no reason why he won’t be in the hunt Sunday on a course he obviously likes.
2) Bubba Watson — Again, I’m going to stick by the guys I selected in the beginning — at least those who are still around.
The reason I picked Watson in the first place was because he seemed to be hitting the ball so well the last time we saw him, in position to win at the Travelers Championship before a late collapse.
That stroke hasn’t left him. Watson is still swinging it well and had a number of chances to sink some putts and really go low on Friday. That didn’t happen, but if putts suddenly start to fall in the cup, the six shots he has to make up can be erased quickly.
3) Ted Potter Jr. — Previous Greenbrier Classic winners have fizzled out faster than Independence Day fireworks the year after their triumphs.
After finishing with a 59 on the final day to win the 2010 Greenbrier Classic, Stuart Appleby missed the cut in 2011.
Following a dramatic playoff victory in 2011, Scott Stallings finished 56th a year later on The Old White TPC.
But that doesn’t appear as though it will be Potter’s fate. Playing in a group of stars, Potter looked like — well, a wizard — through the first two rounds and is in a great spot at 5-under par, just four shots off the lead.
I tried to shy away from the 2012 champion, but I just can’t do it any longer. Maybe I’m under his spell.
4) Johnson Wagner — Wagner’s game was nowhere near as dazzling on Friday as it was in the opening round, but he did nothing to take himself out of contention, either. He continually gave himself birdie opportunities, and although they didn’t come through for the most part on Friday, he also avoided the mistakes that could have taken him out of contention.
Wagner is a smart golfer. He’s playing well and it seems as though he’s comfortable enough on The Old White TPC that he’ll be in the hunt when all is said and done.
5) Jordan Spieth — I always like a guy who has nothing to lose.
The 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur champion has already put himself in a spot where he’ll have a TOUR card for 2014, and he can’t be eligible for the FedEx Cup unless he wins an event, since he’s not yet an official PGA TOUR member.
All of the rules and terminology can make your head spin faster than a weekend full of calculus homework, but to put it simply, Spieth can fire at pins and try to chase down a win without having to worry about the consequences.
The 20-year-old has already come close — he finished second at the Puerto Rico Open, seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship, ninth at the RBC Heritage, seventh at the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial and sixth at the AT&T National just last week.
His first PGA TOUR win is going to come sooner rather than later, and just three shots back at 6-under-par, The Greenbrier Classic could be Spieth’s first of many victories.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.