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Old White at the Greenbrier Resort is one of the iconic courses in our great country. And it's well documented that Jim Justice spent a fortune restoring it, as well as the resort and surrounding White Sulphur Springs, WV, community.
But it's a strange event, The Greenbrier Classic. In the past, Justice has reportedly paid big-name players such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to play the event, only to have them underperform. Then guys such as Scott Stallings, Ted Potter and Jonas Blixt have won here. Stuart Appleby shot a 59 on the old layout. Some fairways are on the sides of hills. Tom Watson plays every year, as do almost all players outside of the top 50 in the world. It ends with a 175-yard three-shotter.
At the end of the day, it's not a difficult course, with winners averaging better than -16 since the major renovation the course underwent after the 2010 event. There are plenty of wedge opportunities and relatively straightforward putts once the green is reached, although hitting greens is sometimes difficult, as is scrambling from the wrong side of these often-perched greens.
So I opt for guys with some history here, good games inside 100 yards and above-average putters. Be sure to check the field as there have already been several WDs, including Jason Day (more on that below). Onto the picks:
1. Bill Haas. Not sure if it's the old-style, laid back nature of Greenbrier or the layout itself, but Haas performs well here. A playoff loss and a T9 in three appearances support that, and despite a crumby showing at Congressional last week, his game is never off for too long.
2. Jimmy Walker. Was in that mass of humanity that tied for second here last year, and throw in a T4 in 2010 and he's got just as good of course history as Haas does. Has been in the top 10 in four of his last six events, so his form is solid. Driving accuracy is the only concern that could hold him back this week.
3. Brendon Todd. Hard to move the hottest guy on Tour any lower than this. His last five events: Win, T5, T8, T17, T5. That's production. T46 here in 2012… when he made $474K for the season.
4. Gary Woodland. Don't let his T62 here last year fool you -- a 69 on the final day (instead of a 77) would've had him in the top 10. That 77 came after a 64 on Saturday, too, and threw up a 65 in 2011. He's 16/17 in cuts made this year and ranks 25th in FedEx Cup points.
5. Chris Kirk. He hasn't missed a cut this year, is one of the top putters on Tour, and has dramatically improved his driving accuracy stats. No reason to think he won't show well this week, too.
6. Richard Lee. Might seem a strange choice, but he's been par-or-better at this course in eight rounds the last two years, although he doesn't have any high finishes to show for it. But after a T11 at Congo last week he should have some confidence, and he hits a fair amount of greens (62%) and makes a lot of putts (13th in Strokes Gained Putting). With the way things are going this year on Tour, he could win. Plus he has a great salad.
7. Bubba Watson. Not much course history here, hasn't played particularly well his last two events, and he can always do Bubba things. I've seen the social media photos of him fly fishing on the property, but I doubt Bubba's been doing a lot of prep work on the course. I should probably have Webb Simpson here with his better course history, but his form hasn't been fantastic either.
8. Shawn Stefani. Will the playoff loss last week bring more confidence or deflate him? He made the cut here last year and is just now seeing all of these courses for the second time -- he's played in eight of the same events in 2014 versus 2013, and improved his finish in five of them (two were similar finishes, just slight drops). He hits it long and makes plenty of putts, so I think he'll continue to play well this week.
9. Steve Stricker. Almost not worth including because if you still have to use, you're saving him for next week's John Deere or the Playoffs. But Old White should set up really well for Strick -- it's not long, rewards wedge play and guys make putts here. Coming off solid performances in the PLAYERS, Memorial and US Open, he needs a couple more high finishes to secure his place in the Playoffs (currently No. 131).
10. Scott Stallings. He was actually in position for a high finish last week at Congressional before he threw up an Art Monk on Sunday. He's the ultimate home run play, as there's no pattern to when and where he wins -- he just gets hot and can go low with the best of them. He won here in 2011 and this is one of the few places where he's never missed the cut (3/3)… plus he's made three consecutive cuts in 2014, the second-longest such stretch of his career.
Player to avoid: Keegan Bradley. What's up with Keegs these days? I was really hoping to see some good play for him leading up to Valhalla and the PGA, or even for the WGC Bridgestone, and there's still time… but there doesn't seem to be much there right now. His MC at Congressional (75-75) and T31 at Travelers weren't a great way to back up his T4 at the US Open.
Another note: Jason Day should've been a top choice any week, but he withdrew with that recurring thumb injury. Really bad news for those who have been saving him. Hopefully he's just being precautious as some big events are on the horizon.
Interesting note about White Sulphur Springs: It's been known for some time about the Greenbrier's secret bunker for Congress in case of nuclear war. Here's a little more about how it was exposed and a behind-the-scenes look.
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Photo: USA Today Sports Images