Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 5, 2012

‘Old guys’ making a bit of noise after first round of play

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Strike one … make that two and even more … for the “old” guys.

 No one was more surprised than 49-year-old Vijay Singh, who leads the Greenbrier Classic with a 7-under 63, and Jeff Maggert, 48, who is one shot back with a 64.

 Don’t forget 45-year-old Jerry Kelly or Ken Duke, who is 43. Even Tom Watson, the Greenbrier’s Pro Emeritus, fired an even par 70 at age 62 to beat both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

  “Every week now I seem like the oldest guy in the field, but I saw Vijay’s playing and Tom’s here this week and Kenny Perry (who shot a 70), so there’s a few guys older than me,” Maggert said. “But there’s a lot of guys out there in their 40s, late 40s, that can really play some good golf still.  It is not surprising to see some of the old guys up on the leaderboard.”

 Singh, who will be eligible for the Champions Tour in February, recorded eight birdies, six in the final round, including all of the final four holes in his best performance of the year.  

 “Gosh, I don’t know where that came from,” said Singh, who has a one-stroke lead over Maggert, Martin Flores and Jonathan Byrd. “I’ve been playing pretty good golf for a while, but I just never got any scoring going. But today seemed I hit close and drove the ball really well, hit a lot of greens and made some nice putts. “

  Maggert, who hasn’t won since the 2006 FedEx St. Jude’s Classic, had the early lead with a 66, less than a week after missing the cut at the AT&T National. He finished in 8th and 13th in his first two events in January, and hasn’t been higher than 26th since then this season.

 “Obviously a good start. I kind of surprised myself a little bit with my play,” said Maggert, who has a bogey-free round that included six birdies. “I played really bad last week up at Congressional and came down here early and just practiced a little bit and felt like I got things figured out a little bit the last couple days, but certainly wasn’t expecting to play as well as I did today.”

 It wasn’t just them. Kelly and Duke were three shots back with a pair of 4-under 66s.

 Kelly put himself in a tie for 9th place, scoring four birdies without a bogey. A three-time winner on Tour, he last won in 2009 at New Orleans.

 “I felt real calm out there, hit a lot of fairways, made my shot into the green a lot easier,” Kelly said. “Hit a lot of my shots on the approaches that would release to the pin, and the greens reacted the way we expected them so I was able to make some putts.”

 Another player closing in on Champions Tour status is Duke, who has four top 10 finishes this season. This is his first time playing in this event, having had to return to qualifying school to reclaim his PGA Tour card.

 Duke is just trying to have fun, and not think about keeping that cherished status on the Tour.

 “I think if you think about it, it will get to you,” Duke said. “It’s kind of like if you’re out there trying to hit shots, it will get to you. If you’re out there trying to have fun, you’ll hit good shots. So if you don’t think about it a lot and just stay focused and have some fun, that’s what it is all about.”

 Singh, who hasn’t finished higher than ninth this year, last won three different times in 2008. He was able to play in the morning, which seemed to be an advantage with just four players in the top 15 that started in the afternoon.

 “I think it was cooler. Get out of this — the sun’s out now so the going into the afternoon will be much warmer,” Singh said. “It was cooler and it was a light breeze so it was good scoring conditions.”

  Maggert, a three-time Ryder Cup champion who last won on the PGA Tour in Memphis in 2006, was asked to recount each of his birdies. He did, but started by commenting, “At my age, it is hard to remember, short term memory’s gone.”

 “I didn’t play well last year, but the scoring conditions are pretty soft right now,” Maggert said. “The greens are holding well and from what I understand the greens might be a little more  receptive than they were last year.”

 Singh is currently playing his ninth tournament in the last 10 weeks, simply trying to find that winning formula. For at least one round, he did just that. He’s not feeling his age.  

  “Yeah. I’ve been expecting it for a while, but it never showed up,” Singh said. “Hopefully it keeps going. I don’t feel tired. I feel really energized. I’ve been working really hard on my game so it’s nice to see something happen.”

 So can a 40-plus-year-old golfer in a field full of youngsters and with names like Woods and Mickelson still be in contention and even win on Sunday.

 Why not?

 “I think when you’re playing well it doesn’t matter what golf course you’re on,” Maggert said. “There’s obviously golf courses that suit my game probably a little bit better than this one, but certainly, ball-striking-wise, I really feel comfortable here when I’m hitting the ball well with my irons. I feel like I could shoot some good scores.

 “As far as winning the tournament, it’s doesn’t matter. If you’re playing well and putting well, you’re going to play well no matter what golf course you’re at.”

—Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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