By RICH STEVENS
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
The big news out of preparations for the fourth annual Greenbrier Classic was the commitment of Phil Mickelson to play in the PGA Tour event for the third consecutive year, set for July 4-7 on the Old White TPC.
However, his making the cut would be a more welcome headliner.
Greenbrier Owner Jim Justice and 2012 Classic champion Ted Potter Jr. addressed the media in the Champions Room of the Greenbrier's clubhouse on Tuesday during media day for the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.
Potter is returning to defend his crown, something that the winners of the first two Classics - Stuart Appleby in 2010 and Scott Stallings in 2011 - failed to do.
Potter and Stallings were first-time PGA Tour event winners.
Mickelson has 49 professional golf victories with 41 of those coming on the PGA Tour. He has three Masters championships and one PGA Championship.
On the Old White TPC, however, Mickelson has not fared well. In 2013, he'll simply try to play on Saturday and Sunday, a task that neither he nor Tiger Woods achieved in 2012.
After Justice lured Mickelson and Woods last year, "Lefty" shot a pair of 71s and missed the weekend by three strokes. Woods, who hasn't committed to this year's Classic, missed by one.
Their playing in the tournament was a draw, but not playing on the weekend didn't help.
Justice participated in a benefit for Wounded Warriors in November during which he played golf with former President Bill Clinton and attended a dinner in which Mickelson was the master of ceremonies.
That's when he made a plea to the ninth-winningest golfer in PGA Tour history.
"I got up and I was speaking," the Greenbrier owner said. "I said, 'There are three ways you can make a friend in this world. You can tell a secret, make a confession and ask a favor.'
"I said, 'Phil, let me tell you this. There are a lot of people who would regard you as a friend of West Virginia. Let me make a confession. It really meant a tremendous amount to me to commit and come to our tournament.' Then I said, 'Phil, let me tell you a secret. There are several West Virginians that can get pretty dad gum rowdy.' Then I said, 'Let me ask a favor. For God's sake, make the cut.'"
All joking aside, Justice said Mickelson couldn't quite pinpoint the reason for his struggles at the Old White TPC.
In 2011, Mickelson was 1-over through 9 holes and, despite a birdie on No. 10, finished 1-over after a bogey on No. 15. His second round included five bogeys and three birdies.
Last year, he had a double bogey on each day, finishing 2-over par for the first 36 holes, continuing a stretch during which he shot over par in 10 consecutive 18-hole rounds. Mickelson has missed just two cuts this season, won the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Feb. 3 and was third in the Wells Fargo Championship on May 5.
Still, his year has been a rollercoaster, featuring four top 20 finishes, but three others 50 and lower in the events he finished.
"He said, 'I can play that golf course,' " Justice said. "I believe that the Old White has a way, that if you opt to try to attack it, it'll bite you. If you let it come to you, it'll reward you. I think that's the mark of a great, great golf course."
Since Appleby's course record final-round 59 allowed him to finish 22-under par and edge Jeff Overton by one stroke in the inaugural Classic in 2010, changes to the golf course have made scoring more difficult.
No other significant course changes are expected for this year's Classic on the 7,287-yard, par 70 layout.
There weren't any last year either, when defending champion Stallings finished T56 and broke par only once. In 2011, Appleby shot 3-over the first two rounds and missed the cut.
Rich Stevens is assistant sports editor of the Charleston Daily Mail.