Thunder, but not from the Woods
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - When it comes to the Greenbrier Classic, we've learned to expect the unexpected.
This year is following the script.
A 59 in Year 1. An improbable winner in a playoff in Year 2. And, now, Phil Mickelson missing the cut for the second straight year? That's almost as difficult to imagine as a derecho here. Then a 2-hour, 25-minute weather delay?
But the big story of this week, this tournament, has been the visit of Tiger Woods. Historic at a historic landmark course. The man came in chasing Sam Snead's victory record in Snead's lair.
In a sense, Tiger was this tournament. He was the man most traveled to Greenbrier County to see. It was Woods' first visit. The Tiger head cover for the driver was here. The stare, the confident walk was present. The crouching Tiger as he lined up a putt was here.
Now, it's all gone like a summer shower. He failed to make the cut.
"I didn't quite have it," Woods said. "I drove pretty well today, but didn't have a feel for distance."
If you don't think it historic, you should have seen Woods' following. The stands behind the No. 1 tee filled for his 1:20 p.m. group. It wasn't to see U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, who takes a one-stroke lead into today's third round. It wasn't to see Steve Stricker.
There was Woods, surely, all believed, many hoping, ready to redeem himself after a 1-over-par first-day performance. He showed up on that first tee in a green striped shirt with the Nike swoosh.
Charleston's Chuck Stump carried the standard, which informed fans of those in the group and their scores. He told the story of the volunteer who had the duty on Thursday - and failed to show. He was astonished. (Charleston's Jim Strawn cheerily stepped in.) It was an honor.
Anyway, Woods was announced as "the man who has dominated every phase of the game" at the first tee. Enthusiastic applause followed.
But prime-time Tiger did not.
He did smack his first drive a whopping 327 yards to the middle of the fairway. On his approach to the par-4, someone yelled "get in the hole," making the rest of us cringe. (Is that not old as our hills YET?) Woods made par.
The lovefest continued. Fans cheered on No. 2 as he walked by. One was disappointed, however, saying, he "could've at least waved." He did waver, though, missing a birdie putt, despite pointing, instructing it to go left.
Woods, by the way, did have nice moments with the crowd. On the No. 3 tee, he flipped a ball to a little girl, whose eyes lit like the skies later. Seconds later, however, he uncorked a drive on the 205-yard par-4. "No! No!" he cried, before asking where the ball went.
Answer: Down the green's saddle. If the hole is cut there, that's sweet. It wasn't. Bogey.
We saw the frustrated Tiger for most of the day. On No. 4, Woods hit a bad approach shot, stood there and finally flipped his club at his bag in disgust.
After eight holes, when the rains came, he was right where he began the day at 1 over. He only needed a couple birdies to make the cut.
But when he started the back nine with a pair of 5s, when he missed a 8-foot 4-inch putt for par on No. 11, we saw the signs. Tiger was about to be caged.
The tournament experienced lightning, but not from its star.
Down the stretch, he made a bit of a run, but missed a birdie attempt on No. 15. On No. 16, needing two shots, he made par. On the par-5 17th, his third shot was only within 32 feet. On the par-3 18th, needing a hole-in-one, he made it to within 7 feet, 5 inches. Close, but not close enough. Still, Woods was gracious.
"I had a great time," he said. "The people here were fantastic. I could see how excited the fans were. Unfortunately, I was only here a couple days."
Indeed, Simpson is leading. Right behind him are Jonathan Byrd and Charlie Beljan - who led the tournament in "Who?s" - along with Jeff Maggert and Jerry Kelly. About the most striking story was news that Golf Channel's popular "Big Break" reality competition will hit The Greenbrier and premier Oct. 2. (Also, tennis stars John McEnroe and Pete Sampras will visit the resort on Sept. 22.)
While those are positive notes, however, the story of this day was Tiger. And, somewhat, Mickelson. A couple of blows to the event.
Unexpected turns, they were. Which we've come to expect.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.