Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

July 4, 2014

Commentary: Plenty to watch on the weekend at The Greenbrier

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — I’ve heard it from many this week. Once they’ve seen John Daly’s pants, Scott Stallings’ arms and Bubba Watson’s driver cover, those who don’t regularly follow the PGA Tour closely aren’t exactly sure what to watch when observing The Greenbrier Classic.

But that excuse for not coming out to witness West Virginia’s only regular professional sporting event is about as valid as turning down a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings because there aren’t enough flavors from which to chose.

Aside from soaking in the breathtaking views of the Greenbrier Valley and chomping down on a fried green tomato sandwich, there’s plenty of options to stay entertained.

Here’s a quick guide of what to watch on the weekend.

• Bubba Watson — Is The Greenbrier’s newest resident the best golfer to ever play the game? Probably not. Is he a future Hall of Famer? Most likely. Can he do things to a golf ball that nobody else can accomplish? Absolutely.

Those who remember Watson’s shot out of the pine straw from down in a valley and around trees during a playoff on No. 17 at Augusta National Golf Club to win the 2012 Masters — his first of two green jackets —already know that Watson has tricks up his sleeve that would make David Copperfield throw down the magic wand and call it a career. I’ve stood in that spot and don’t think I could get it through that gap and make it take that turn if I had a remote control.

But those jaw-dropping swings are routine for Watson. He can attempt shots that nobody else could even dream up, and it happens almost every time out. Stick with him for a round, and you’re likely to see one of them for yourself.

Watson is 5-under for the tournament and is confident he can go even lower.

“It’s a good first two days,” he said. “If I can come out and play a little better on the weekend, we can move up pretty quick.”

• Tom Watson — How often in sports do you get to see a sports legend playing with the current stars?

Let me know when Michael Jordan comes back to the Bulls for a game or two to take on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. I want a press credential whenever Nolan Ryan comes back to pitch against Mike Trout.

But the next two days will provide golf fans the rare opportunity to see the 64-year-old eight-time major championship winner tee it up with golf’s new Watson, Bubba, and other stars of the game.

While Watson may not have the endurance to put together four championship-level rounds at his age, his golf swing is timeless and is still a perfect example for young golfers. And at 1-under for the tournament, the World Golf Hall of Famer is still competing at a high level.

“I hit some good shots,” said the United States Ryder Cup captain, who’s also the pro emeritus at The Greenbrier. “So I’m kind of on the upswing. If I can get the putter rolling just a little bit better, I might make a little noise on the weekend.”

n Steve Stricker — The 12-time PGA Tour winner is playing a limited schedule at age 47, but fans at The Greenbrier Classic are lucky enough to get to see the Wisconsin native this week, and he’s playing well. He posted rounds of 66 and 68 the first two days to sit 6-under for the tournament.

“I made a lot of good par saves that kept the momentum going,” he said of his Friday round. “I don’t know if it’s going to get more difficult or easier, but we just have to see what happens. I’ll have to play well. There’s a lot of guys up there, and I need two good rounds to have a chance.”

Making Stricker’s Saturday round even more interesting is his grouping with Chris Kirk. Because Stricker plays a limited schedule, his regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, has been picking up some tournaments with Kirk to fill out his schedule.

Stricker committed to play in this week’s event late, and Johnson had already committed to Kirk. Stricker turned to his wife, Nixki, to carry his bag, something the couple tries to do at least once every year.

Now, with both players tied at 6-under for the tournament, Stricker will have both his regular caddie and his temporary caddie in his group for today’s round.

Will Johnson remember who’s bag to grab?

• Pat Perez — My dark horse candidate is still alive at 5-under for the tournament. The 38-year-old Arizona State graduate is known for his tantrums on the course, but he’s also an incredibly talented player. When he can control his emotions, he’s as good as anybody out there. When he doesn’t, well, you better duck.

• Patrick Reed — The 23-year-old Augusta State University graduate has won three times on the PGA Tour since turning professional in 2001, and the Texan was the first PGA Tour golfer to have three wins before playing in his first major.

All of that prompted Reed to call himself “one of the top five players in the world,” creating a major strip on the PGA Tour.

Is he?

Judge for yourself. He’ll be making his way around the Old White TPC today with a shot at making some noise.

• Hole No. 12 — Want to see birdies? Hang out on the green of the 568-yard 12th hole for a while. The par 5 has yielded 118 birdies through the first two rounds and is playing as the easiest hole on the course at a 4.66 stroke average. It’s also given up eight of the 17 eagles this week.

• Hole No. 13 — Would you prefer to see the game’s best struggle like you and I on a Sunday afternoon round with friends? Spend some time on the 492-yard par-4 13th. Playing as the hardest hole on the course, the hole has given up 89 scores of bogey or worse this week and has played at an average of 4.26 strokes.

• Jimmy Buffett — OK. Maybe this doesn’t belong on the sports page, but I can’t leave him out. I’ve seen Buffett — who will perform at 9:30 p.m. tonight as part of The Greenbrier Classic Concert Series — six or seven times in concert.

If you’ve never been and have a ticket, do yourself a favor and check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Fins up!

E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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