Blixt weathers the storm
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Under bright sunlight or oncoming darkness, it didn't matter. Jonas Blixt didn't have a clue where his shots were going to go.
That continued to a smaller extent this week in the Greenbrier Classic as he only hit 35 of 56 fairways. But the 28-year-old Sweden native and Florida State graduate hit out of the rough and putted well enough to become the Classic's fourth champion.
The victory was his second on the PGA Tour, adding to his win in last fall's Frys.com Open in San Martin. He shot his third straight 67 to finish at 13-under-par 267, winning by two shots over four different players. That included Johnson Wagner, who led by two after 54 holes.
The second-year Tour member was struggling this season, missing the cut in half of his 16 events, with no top-10 finishes. Accepting the Springhouse Trophy in darkness, his season changed dramatically.
He won $1.134 million, earned a trip to the 2014 Masters and extended his Tour exemption through 2015.
A lingering thunderstorm caused a 3-hour, 10-minute storm delay, and Blixt didn't even tee off until 5 p.m. Rain persisted for an hour or so after that, and cool, wet conditions replaced the humidity that greeted earlier starters.
And that was fine with Blixt.
"I think the weather kind of played to my advantage," he said. "It's kind of a Swedish summer weather you guys had today, and I just felt very comfortable with the rough the way it was, because I played a lot out of it.
"The way the golf course set up and the greens and everything, it couldn't have played out any better for me. Yeah, the weather played a big role."
With the long delay and late start for the final two twosomes, the tournament appeared to be headed for a Monday finish. The Tour has been plagued by weather this year, having 14 of 28 tournaments delayed at some point.
But the players were quick to get around the course - the last pairing of Wagner and Jimmy Walker putted out at 8:53 p.m., 3 hours and 43 minutes after starting.
Blixt seized the lead for good with a 9-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th. About a minute earlier, Wagner couldn't overcome a difficult lie at the lip of a bunker, and bogeyed to fall to 11 under.
That's where Wagner finished, along with Walker, Matt Jones and Steven Bowditch.
"I kind of looked at the scoreboard there on 16 before I hit the putt, and saw I was tied," Blixt said. "Didn't do anything to me emotionally. I just kind of focused on having a good speed on the putt and trying to start it on line, and that was the difference between making it and missing it."
He set that putt up with a 171-yard shot from the left rough. On the par-5 12th, he played his second and third shots from the left rough.
He survived a bogey on the course's toughest hole, the 492-yard 13th. And that was progress - he double-bogeyed the hole on Friday and Saturday.
The Classic continued its tradition of helping struggling golfers turn their game around. Entering the week, Blixt missed the cut the previous week and was 139th in the FedExCup rankings.
He climbed 100 places Sunday, and regained a lot confidence. He didn't see it coming, though.
"Nope, not at all," he said. "I played really well in the Crowne Plaza and the Scandinavian Masters, really excited about that part. Took a week and a half off and came back and worked with my coach."
And he had a good range session with a caddie who used to be a swing coach, Bill Harkey. And he also worked with his coach with video transmitted by cell phone. "Luckily, we've got technology that enables us to do it."
Wagner continued the Classic trend of the 54-hole leader fading on Sunday. After doing well to go even on the front nine, he bogeyed three holes on the back for a 39, giving him a 73 for the day.
He three-putted out of the "whirlpool" on the second, hit his drive way right on the 11th, three-putted on the 13th and suffered his disaster on the 15th. He didn't give himself a chance to make birdies on the next two holes, missing the fairway on both drives.
The 73 offset his first-round 62 and third-round 64. Playing before a sizable following of Virginia Tech fans, he admitted that he let nerves get the best of him - despite owning three Tour wins.
"A little bit earlier with the putter; I never got comfortable with it," he said. "The rains slowed the greens down, and I should have adjusted quicker than I did. I just don't think I had the confidence today. I thought I could swing it pretty good early. On 15, it just went away. After that bogey, my swing just left.
"I'm furious, I'm pissed, but given where I was a couple of weeks ago, I'll take a lot of positives once I get over this disappointment."
Walker earned his third top-5 Classic finish, but wanted a lot more than his final-round 71. He had 15 pars and one bogey, but gave strokes back on Nos. 3 and 10. On the third, he took two putts to escape the "Valley of Sin," the big dip that cuts the large green in two.
The change in the greens, which started the day the hardest they've been all week, contributed.
"The golf course softened up a little bit after the rain and I think I just struggled a little bit with the speed," Walker said. "Left a few putts short and I think that was the difference."
Bowditch shot a 68, but wasn't in the picture after his bogey on the 13th. Jones, whose six-birdie binge Friday saved him from missing the cut, also shot a 68, but didn't get to 11 under until the 17th, a hole after Blixt's pivotal birdie.
2012 Greenbrier champion Ted Potter Jr. slipped into a tie for sixth place with Brian Stuard and Pat Perez. There was an eight-way tie for ninth - Daniel Summerhays, David Love III, David Lingmerth, Tim Petrovic, Tag Ridings, Rory Sabbatini, D.H. Lee and Bill Haas.
2011 Greenbrier champion Scott Stalling sneaked into the top 25, while Bubba Watson shot his third straight 69 to finish 30th. Tom Watson had a 67 to finish 36th.
And finally, Luke List finished 62nd but recorded the tournament's first hole in one, on the 228-yard eighth hole.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.