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Classic lacks Tiger, but not intrigue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'M NOT sure which was the more exciting development in the Greenbrier Classic: Bubba Watson committing to join the field or Sean Payton tweeting that he will caddy for Ryan Palmer.

Yes, the New Orleans Saints coach is coming to an Old White near you. Pulling looper duty, no less.

It seems that Payton, who had plenty of time on his hands while under suspension for the 2012 season, played in every PGA Tour pro-am he could get into. Eventually, he played a round or three with Palmer and a good rapport seems to have been established.

I'll leave the bounty jokes to you, the loyal readership. I'm just thinking about the dream craps table at the Greenbrier casino.

Let's see ... start with Payton and the obvious candidate, John Daly. Jeff Overton likes the tables. Throw in a few free-spirits such as Charley Hoffman and Charlie Beljan ... and maybe Carl Pettersson could barge in. Just thinkin' out loud here.

I don't think Bubba's the gambling type - until he gets on the course. And that's why this stacks up to be the most fun Classic ever, even without Tiger Woods. As you may know, the world's top player is bowing out of competition until the British Open, even skipping his own AT&T National with a strained left elbow.

I had my first good Bubba Watson experience at the 2011 Memorial Tournament near Columbus. The Muirfield Village course features several elevated tees, including the first hole.

The way the ropes were set, you could sneak into a spot underneath that tee. It's not like those guys are going to top it and hit you, right?

Anyway, Bubba trucked up to the tee with his pink driver and did what he does - namely, smacks the ball into next week. Having that the ball zing over your head off his club was ... I can only describe it as different.

With Watson's commitment and Phil Mickelson's previously announced return, I find this Classic to be just as interesting as last year's visit from Woods.

Don't underestimate the latest name to be added to the list, Keegan Bradley. Pending the finish of this weekend's tournament in Connecticut, he is the Classic's fifth commitment from a world top-25 player. With three Tour wins including a major, Bradley is one of the best of the under-30 set.

Here's a stat I find interesting: Eleven players have committed who have already qualified for the British Open, which follows in two weeks. Twelve if you throw in Josh Teater, the Kentucky native who has told me he's coming.

That may speak to the timing of the Classic on the calendar - it could be the perfect warm-up spot - and it probably speaks to the treatment players receive here, both at the hotel and on the course.

With the ultimate entry deadline at 5 p.m. Friday, this week could again become a golfing Christmas of sorts. Last year, it seemed all sorts of "presents" dropped from the proverbial tree, with several high-powered midweek commitments announced.

One bummer to report: I don't see Dustin Johnson returning this time. The PGA Tour's No. 1 long-distance driver played over the weekend in Germany, which may indicate an extended European vacation. He has played the last four weeks, so you have to expect him to take a breather.

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  • If you want the cynical theory on why Woods played here last year and would not have returned if healthy, go to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Greenbrier owner Jim Justice made it worth Woods' while to come to White Sulphur Springs, for certain, but I think it was all about No. 1. Woods was ranked fourth and was looking for additional points. I won't bore you with ranking minutiae, but missing the cut didn't hurt him.

    Today, Woods is No. 1 by a gaping margin so, yes, he's going to rest that elbow. And even if he weren't, he would have played exactly one tournament between the U.S. and British Opens - the AT&T.

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  • Reaching way back to the U.S. Open, I was a bit surprised by some groaning from sports-radio types over the way Merion treated the world's best golfers. Not everybody liked the fact that a 1-over score won.

    Memo to those whiners: It's the U.S. Open. One over is supposed to be the winning score. We can get our 18-under birdiefests the rest of the year.

    The fact that par beat the field at Merion is most encouraging. Before the tournament, I kept hearing that the Philadelphia-area track was too short to host a major, and how it was going to be sliced and diced.

    No dice. Maybe, just maybe, this will help stall the march toward 8,000-yard courses, which the sport really doesn't need.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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