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What does the Greenbrier Classic do in 2012 as an encore to its first two years?
In 2011, fiery rookie Scott Stallings beat Bob Estes and Bill Haas in a playoff by stuffing his approach shot on the first playoff hole (the par-3 No. 18) and rolling in the putt. In 2010, Stuart Appleby lit up the Old White course for a final-round 59, leaping past hard-luck Jeff Overton, who shot a 67 himself that Sunday and got lapped.
It’s been an interesting couple of years, to say the least. In 2010, the winning score was -22; in 2011, it was -10. The main reasons for the difference: the lengthening of the course (to 7,200 yards, par 70) and the reseeding of the greens (to bentgrass), which made the 2011 versions much more difficult to hold. I expect this year will have a winning score somewhere in the mid-teens. Looking at the stats from the contenders last year, there wasn’t a true pattern of how they got there, so players really are on equal footing at Greenbrier – if they hit it straight and make putts, they’ll contend (the same can be said any week on Tour). Last weekend’s storms damaged 70 trees on the course and there's bad weather in the forecast, so that might open it up on some holes and further soften the course.
Another interesting note is that six of the top-15 in the OWGR are in the field this week, a dramatic improvement over the first two years. Tiger, Phil, Webb, Furyk, Keegan, DJ and Stricker are here – heck, even Greenbrier spokesman Tom Watson is going to tee it up again (he missed the cut in 2011). Maybe it’s the on-site casino that gets them there, or more likely the rumored appearance fees these guys get from property owner Jim Justice. He’s been on a mission to use the event as a mouthpiece for the resort, which has struggled in and out of bankruptcy in recent years. It’s good to see the home of Sam Snead back in a state of glory.
All of the above guys are the ‘obvious’ picks this week, but buyer beware: In 2011, Mickelson missed the cut, Bradley only managed a t43 and Simpson was the only one who finished in the top-10. Furyk finished t9 in 2010, and even coming off of a couple of disappointing weeks I think he’s a solid play. Like many classic courses, Old White rewards ballstrikers, not necessarily distance off the tee. To make it official, I rank the big guns this way:
- Tiger. Best non-major player in the world right now.
- Furyk. Absent a 3-wood in his hands, is great positionally off the tee, which can help here.
- Simpson. Top-10 here in 2011.
- Stricker. Should be a horse for this course, but then again the John Deere is around the corner.
- Dustin Johnson. Not great last week in DC, but has decent measurables for Greenbrier.
10. Jhonattan Vegas.
Not ready to fully buy in on him yet, but he was solid in DC last week (t4) and tends to put good finishes together in mini bunches the last 18 months. If you like to ride the hot hand – and he can take it low, which Old White has been vulnerable to – Jhonny Vegas is worth a look.
9. Blake Adams.
He’s made seven cuts in a row and sprinkled in three top-25’s in the process, and just missed that last year at this event. He’s due for a week in which he puts it together for all four rounds.
8. Pat Perez.
A poor man’s ATM in 2012, making lots of cuts and sprinkling in some top-15’s. But what I like about him this week is that he makes a ton of birdies and is in the top 25% in the bounceback stat, so he doesn’t get it going off-kilter for multiple holes. He’s a good putter who hits plenty of greens, and with distance not a huge factor, he should have some scoring clubs in his hands.
7. Cameron Tringale.
Had his highest finish of his career here last year (t4), finishing one shot out of the playoff. He’s also been playing some very good golf since April, with multiple top-10’s, a t15 and t25. He’s a great putter who is above average in accuracy and distance stats in 2012, and he was in the hunt last week in DC before a poor weekend, which is the only reason I have him down this low.
6. Brandt Snedeker.
I love this course for him – his swing is a more compact version of Slammin’ Sammy’s. But he’s been battling a rib injury for two months which halted the good momentum he was building. He showed early this year that he can win without much ramp-up time, but just be sure to check that he’s doesn’t WD before selecting him.
5. John Huh.
A rookie can win here since not everyone is familiar the course, and this is the one rookie who has won on Tour in 2012. He’s also playing relatively well, with a t17 at the AT&T National last week, t19 at Memorial and t5 at Colonial. He’s not long off the tee, but is rock solid in all other statistical categories and currently sits at 14th on the money list.
4. Brendon de Jonge.
I’d like to have him higher because he’s been in the top-5 at Greenbrier the last two years, but his Sunday performance at Congressional gives me pause. His swing got a lot more loopy in that final round. A little scary, but he obviously likes what he sees at Old White. Heck, if he had been able to play the last nine holes in better than -1 last year, he might’ve been the champ.
3. Carl Pettersson
/ Jeff Overton.
I couldn't decide which guy to put here, so I wimped out and put them both in the three hole. Crazy Carl is having the best year of his career, even though he’s missed three of his last four cuts. He finished t18 in 2011 after missing the cut at the Canadian Open the week before, so I’m banking on his smooth game to come back this week. Overton came in second to the aforementioned Appleby here in 2010, and if he hadn't shot 79 in round one last week at Congressional, would've been in contention (he still finished t22).
2. Seung-Yol Nuh.
I’m very high on his game… as well as his recent results. The Tour’s youngest rookie has been impressive the last three months, with five top-18’s and two top-10’s the last three weeks. He’s had issues over the weekends, but he’s tough to beat on Thursday and Friday where he ranks approximately 35th in scoring both days. His only weakness is driving accuracy, but that won’t kill him at Greenbrier. I don’t think he’s maxed out yet this year – he seems to be getting better.
1. Jonathan Byrd.
He’s been trying to break back into the winner’s circle recently, with four top-12’s in his last five events, the one exception being a t56 at the US Open. He missed the cut here in 2011 but was mired in his worst stretch of golf over the last two years at that time. He’s playing great and his classic game should match well with Old White this year.
Player to avoid: Phil Mickelson. Seems to have lost some mojo and MC'd here last year. Not a good combo. Can win anytime as we all know, however.
Decent picks last week: Well, I had El Tigre as the No. 1 most obvious pick – does that count? I also had Bo Van Pelt (2), Ryan Palmer (t15) and Charley Hoffman and Jeff Overton (both t22). Nine of 10 made the cut, which is nice. Also said to avoid Ryan Moore, and he only brought home $14k.
Bad pick: KJ Choi was the one exception and wouldn’t have qualified for the Congressional Club Championship with his play last week.