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A first time for everything

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - As the Greenbrier Classic field filled out Monday, there were 73 winners of PGA Tour events scheduled to compete when the tournament starts Thursday.

That means there are 83 who are still looking for their first tournament victory, and some of them are better than average.

That's how maddening this game called golf can be - if you let it.

Brendon de Jonge knows a little bit about seeing his name on the leader board, but not on top of it, at least at the end of Sunday. That includes his two top-four finishes at the Classic, so he's had his share of close calls.

Among those who have played all three previous tournaments on the Old White TPC, de Jonge has the second-lowest scoring average (67.50) and has earned the third-most money ($648.748.50). He has a round of 64, three 65s and two 66s to his credit.

There's more of that where the Zimbabwe native and Virginia Tech graduate is concerned. He went 66-67-67-66 at the Phoenix Open in February but still finished sixth, 10 shots behind Phil Mickelson. He had a look at the Heritage but finished 4 over on the back nine Sunday to fall to ninth place.

Last October at Las Vegas, de Jonge went 23 under and still lost out by a stroke to Ryan Moore. In that birdie bash, parring the last five holes relegated him to second.

That's his only second-place finish in six years on the PGA Tour, but he has three thirds, 21 top-10s and 47 top-25s, plus he has made 117 of 169 cuts.

His checks have totaled $7.5 million, but he's still shooting for the big one. As are a lot of people.

"I keep knocking on that door; I just haven't been able to knock it down yet," de Jonge said. "I've played nicely as a whole this year. I've been lucky enough to be pretty steady, the last couple of years, anyway."

There are other established players in his shoes, including:

  • Graham DeLaet - The 31-year-old Canadian is enjoying a breakout season, stringing together five top-10s and ranking 23rd in the FedExCup standings. But two weeks ago, a bogey on the 16th sapped his chances to catch winner Ken Duke and runner-up Chris Stroud at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
  • Jimmy Walker - Owns two top-five Classic finishes and is enjoying a similar breakout season. Posted a 68-71-68-68 line at Pebble Beach, only to finish third and lose by five to Brandt Snedeker.
  • David Lingmerth - He's one of the best rookies on the Tour and had a chance to win his second start, the Humana Challenge in California. Alas, he found the water in the first playoff hole against Charles Howell III and eventual winner Brian Gay. If not for Lingmerth's $492,000 check, that would have been a waste of a final-round 62.
  • Kevin Chappell - He can boast a third-place finish in 2011 in the U.S. Open, but that was the year Rory McIlroy won by a hundred strokes or so. He also had no chance to improve on second in this year's Memorial, what with Matt Kuchar dominating. His second-place finish behind Brendan Steele was grating, because it was by a stroke - perhaps that bogey on the 17th.
  • So can one of these guys, or someone with a similar resume, break through this week at Old White? Seventy-two holes will tell the tale, though many will only remember the homestretch on Sunday.

    "A shot here or there at the right time makes a world of difference when you're up there on the leader board," de Jonge said. "I'll try to tightening it up a little bit, and hopefully that will be enough to win."

    The rookies

    With the last two Classics captured by PGA Tour rookies, a check of other 2013 newcomers is in order.

    Russell Henley won his first Tour start in Hawaii in January, but not everybody is so good (or fortunate). He is in the Classic field this week.

    Derek Ernst won in his ninth start, at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., which allowed him to skip this week. Having missed eight of 14 cuts this year, he would otherwise skip the Classic at his peril - which is pretty much the lot of most rookies.

    Scott Stallings was not in horrendous shape in as a rookie in 2011, but was 94th on the money list and needed a good paycheck. He got it by winning the Greenbrier Classic.

    In 2012, Ted Potter Jr. headed to the Greenbrier after missing five cuts in a row. At No. 164 on the money list, his Tour card was in grave jeopardy before he emerged as champion.

    With that, which rookie could win?

  • Jordan Spieth, who has already gained special temporary member status, made the field with a sixth-place finish at the AT&T National and would have had a sponsor's exemption anyway. He's not just looking to gain a full Tour card without the annoyance of "Q School," he's also looking to crack the FedExCup top 30, a very magic number.
  • Morgan Hoffman has two straight top-10s and sank all 52 putts from 5 feet and in last week.
  • D.H. Lee, the Korean who closed with a 64 at the AT&T and is hot with the putter.
  • And for the Potter-like pick? How about Australian Scott Gardiner, who couldn't get off the alternate list at the AT&T and has missed 12 of his last 13 cuts? He needs a little help.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

    Today's schedule

    At Old White TPC

    White Sulphur Springs

  • Gates open, 8 a.m.
  • Youth clinic, 1:30 p.m.
  • PGA Tour practice rounds (all day)

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