Notes: Golfers praise course recovery
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - When Tom Watson laid eyes on the Old White TPC course, he couldn't believe what he didn't see.
The Greenbrier's pro emeritus arrived Sunday, about 48 hours after the "derecho" storm hacked up the resort's three courses. Old White suffered the brunt of 52 fallen trees, to say nothing of wayward branches and crushed sections of seating.
"Hill [Herrick, the resort's head pro] took me around the entire 18 holes of the Old White," Watson said. "It didn't look like anything had happened."
Many of the players who came from the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md., echoed the sentiment, having had a frame of reference. Workers at Congressional Country Club labored hurriedly to get the course playable after Friday's storm, but large uprooted trees were visible to TV viewers and the course was closed to spectators for the third round.
Billy Hurley's assessment: "You would have no idea they lost trees out here. I mean, you wouldn't know a storm went through here. They've done a great job cleaning it up from whatever they lost or whatever damage they had. I couldn't see any of it [while] playing today."
Watson did notice one particular absence. The first hole features one of the most scenic vistas in golf, but that has been altered.
"The saddest one knocked down, to me, was the oak on No. 1 off the tee, just an absolutely majestic oak on the left side in the rough there that really beautifully framed the hole, and it's gone."
Tee times were released for the first two rounds, Thursday and Friday. As expected, there are plenty of good threesomes to follow, both in the morning and afternoon.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, Watson tees off at No. 10 with Keegan Bradley and Jim Furyk, the 2010 FedExCup champ. Furyk is 17th in the those standings; Bradley is 24th.
Following is the biggie, with Woods, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker. They run 1-9-25 in the FedExCup, 4-5-13 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Off the No. 1 tee at 1:10 p.m. will be Johnson Wagner (13th FedExCup), Dustin Johnson (21) and defending FedExCup champ Bill Haas (22). Ten minutes later, Phil Mickelson (8) will begin with Classic champions Stuart Appleby and Scott Stallings.
All groups will reverse time frames (i.e., morning or afternoon sessions) on Friday. Those teeing off at No. 1 Thursday will go off from No. 10 Friday, and vice versa.
Many of the big names take the course today in the pro-am tournament, with one pro playing with amateurs - major sponsors, celebrities, etc. Get up early if you want to see Woods or Simpson - they tee off at 7 a.m., from No. 1 and 10, respectively.
Today's Tiger trivia:
By not entering the Classic, Michael Thompson may lose a shot at the British Open. That's a big carrot this week for many golfers, with two specific chances to win a trip across the pond.
The first is a bit convoluted: The top two (not already exempt) on a special money list enveloping six tournaments. Those are the Players Championship, the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship two weeks ago, the AT&T National last week and the Greenbrier Classic.
Marc Leishman, who won the Travelers and is in the Classic field, leads that list with $1,150,675, followed by Thompson at $718,412. The next three are John Merrick ($616,440), Charley Hoffman ($586,593) and Jhonattan Vegas ($552,021).
After those two spots are determined, the top player in the Classic - again, not otherwise exempt - goes to the British Open, provided he finishes in the top five overall.
Watson and Stallings have both overcome injuries to play here.
Watson played in the Champions Tour's Senior Players Championship, his first competitive tournament since the Masters. He injured his hand and it took two-plus months to recover.
"I'm getting my legs now," said the 62-year-old Watson. "I'm not playing very consistently, but I'm driving the ball pretty well. The iron play is a little sketchy."
Stallings herniated a low disk in his back in early June, continuing an injury-marred year. In January, he tore cartilage in five ribs, but didn't get the injury properly diagnosed or treated for several weeks.
Having learned from that, he immediately withdrew from the Travelers Championship near Hartford, Conn., and got it checked. He had less than two weeks before coming to White Sulphur Springs.
Mission accomplished, he said Tuesday.
"I withdrew from Hartford, came home, had an MRI, saw a spine specialist, just made sure there wasn't going to be anything serious to deal with," he said. "We had, I think, 13 or 14 therapy sessions in seven days, so a couple times a day trying to get back. We didn't have to do cortisone or anything like that."
The field features players from 17 different countries, with eight from Australia and five from Korea. There are 41 players under age 30, 38 over age 40.
That was nearly even before Tuesday, when 45-year-old Michael Bradley withdrew. He was replaced in the 156-man field by 25-year-old Billy Horschel.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.