By Dave Shedloski
A golf fan would be hard-pressed to find a more unpredictable and exciting venue on the PGA Tour than the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Since its inception in 2010, the Greenbrier Classic has been the site of a series of come-from-behind victories, including last year when Angel Cabrera shot 64-64 on the weekend. And, of course, Stuart Appleby started the trend when he fired a 59 in the 2010 edition.
The $6.7 million tournament also has seen some breakthrough performances by the likes of Scott Stallings, Ted Potter, Jr., and Jonas Blixt. More young and hungry players are in the mix with established veterans like Bubba Watson, winner last week at the Travelers Championship, and Louis Oosthuizen, who tied for second the week before at the U.S. Open. Young players to watch include Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, Blayne Barber and Peter Uihlein.
For the second time in as many weeks, there’s a tournament within the tournament to watch for as four players who finish among the top 12 can qualify for the British Open at St. Andrews. It just adds one more element to the drama that’s likely to unfold at the historic resort.
CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz takes a look at some of the potential story lines.
This is a tournament where we’ve seen a lot of low scoring, and the 54-hole leader has never gone on to win. What is it about the Old White TPC that creates such exciting conclusions, including the 59 we saw from Stuart Appleby in 2010?
We’ve had nothing but riveting tournaments at the Greenbrier since the first year, and of course, for those of us in the business of documenting these events, there’s nothing we love more than some final-hour suspense and drama. The Greenbrier has definitely given us a wonderful stage. We love our association with this event, and the golf course is the type that, when you’re on your game you can post a number, as we see time and again.
The field is another strong one headlined by the Travelers Championship winner, Bubba Watson, and Louis Oosthuizen, who had that remarkable final 54 holes in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. A quick thought on Bubba because he runs hot and cold. What do you think of his chances for an encore after his playoff victory over Paul Casey?
It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him back up that victory with another strong performance, and who knows, maybe even another win. This is a guy who is a one-of-a-kind talent in terms of the way he approaches the sport. There’s no one you can compare him to in this generation, with the self-made swing, a go-for-the-fences kind of approach, a creative thinker, a wonderful touch, huge imagination. He’s putting together now, since 2010, a resume that’s on track for a Hall-of-Fame career. Eight wins, including, two majors. He’s on his way down that road. I think only Rory McIlroy has won more, so that says a lot about what Bubba Watson has accomplished. And now he goes to a place where he has a home, and so he doesn’t go from Hartford to a hotel room. He goes from Hartford to home, so for him, it will be a chance to regenerate at the Greenbrier. It should shape up nicely for him.
For the second week in a row we have a tournament within a tournament where up to four spots could be available for qualifying for the British Open. Do you like that dynamic?
I do. We referenced it many times this past weekend, and I think sometimes it’s a little hard for the viewer at home to completely absorb what we’re saying about the importance of being inside the top 12, and then if a player is one of four who have not otherwise qualified. So it’s a tricky thing to get the wording just right, but I think it was a brilliant move by the R&A to create more interest in their championship in the weeks leading up to it. Look how many times we talked about St. Andrews and the Open Championship when we otherwise wouldn’t have. It ended up being compelling having Luke Donald make a Sunday charge to earn that fourth spot at the Travelers Championship. It’s good for the game and it’s good when you can have one tournament promoting another.
The inevitable question has to come up. Tiger Woods is in the field, now ranked outside the top 200, playing in this event for the second time. He missed the cut in his only other start at the Old White TPC, and he struggled at the U.S. Open. What do you look for from the former No. 1 player?
All credit in the world for not front-loading the interview with that question. You’ve placed it in the right slot in importance, I think. Obviously, we’re all going to talk about it, and he will have our attention. It shouldn’t be the lead story going into this tournament, but a lot of people will make it such. I really don’t know how to answer to the state of his game or what to expect from him at the Greenbrier. I’m as anxious as anyone else to see if he can come up with some better golf than we’ve seen of late and hit some quality shots. I think we all wonder when the magic is going to come back. He’s lost on the golf course right now, and we can only hope for his sake he finds some answers.
I’d like your thoughts on favorites and dark horses for this week.
This is a hard tournament to figure, and we’ve had some surprises through the years, including that 59 that Stuart Appleby shot or what we saw last year with a player with the credentials of Angel Cabrera a year ago. I feel like golf is in a really good transition period in 2015, and I feel there’s a lot of energy and excitement around what’s happening, and I think we’ll see that this weekend as well. The game has really found itself. The tournaments are compelling. I’m going to stay on that young player theme. He’s not one of these young 20-somethings, but Bubba isn’t an old guy either. He’s still a fresh talent, and I’m going to think he’ll play well. I’m also looking at Patrick Reed. Justin Thomas, who’s having a great first season, qualifies as a dark horse. I’ve seen the hunger and determination in Justin, and I wonder how long it’s going to be before he starts peeling off victories. I look at Patrick Rodgers the same way. Add him. That’s where I’m going here. And Kevin Kisner has turned the corner this year at Hilton Head, and it seems like every time he plays now, he’s making a run at it.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.