Notebook: Low scores predicted for Classic
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - With just a handful of Greenbrier Classic players opting for early practice times Monday, two groups of people were found in abundance.
Red-shirted marshals, who were easing into a long week, and caddies. Members of the latter category could be seen buzzing around the greens, dissecting the slope, speed and undulation.
The players will largely define The Greenbrier Classic by the course's stunning setting, and the surrounding resort. But for now, there is one pressing item for most of the 156-player field: They've never played Old White.
Keep in mind the structure of the PGA Tour. Many events are staged on the same course or group of courses, year after year.
Torry Pines. Pebble Beach. Riviera. TPC Scottsdale. Bay Hill, Harbour Town, Quail Hollow, Colonial and so on.
So here comes The Greenbrier Classic, in a corner of the world few Tour players have seen, on a course they might have heard about but surely have not played. With a $6 million purse and FedExCup points on the line, they hunt for every edge.
And so do the caddies, who get a cut of the winnings. They were hitting Old White pretty hard Monday.
That was the case for John Rathouz, a former caddy of John Merrick, who will be on Brett Wetterich's bag this week.
"Last week, there was a new course [at the Canadian Open]," Rathouz said. "There are only four or five of those, if you don't include the majors. For the most part, there are repeats.
"This makes it a level playing field. These guys are pretty good at figuring it out, though."
Of a few caddies and players queried Monday, nobody expects par to make the cut. Some predictions of a 20-under winner have been bandied about, even though it would take an average of 5-under 65 each day to do it.
Last week's Canadian Open may provide a fair barometer. The cut came at 1-under, with winner Carl Pettersson winning at minus-14. He shot a 10-under 60 on the third day to thunder into contention after making the cut on the number.
Players seemed to love the course, in general. Some of the greens were tricky - many players were taking extra putts on Nos. 3 and 18, for instance.
The third hole contains the self-explanatory "Valley of Sin," a large dip separating the front and back of a large green. "It's the deepest I've seen," Rathouz said.
But the fairways and greens were soft, which could send scores plummeting even lower.
"The fairways are not that tight and they are soft," said Sam Saunders, one of the players who will compete this week. "You don't have to hit it right down the middle. Scores will be really low."
There is no mistake when John Daly shows up. He may not say a peep to anyone, but his clothes speak volumes. On Monday, it was a bright orange hat and shirt with multicolor checkered pants.
On the practice green, he tried out about eight different putters. He then headed to the practice range to chat with other players, then showed how he maneuvers through crowds as quickly - and anti-socially - as possible.
He crossed the ropes from driving range to practice green, fired up a cigarette and made a beeline for the 18th tee, where he was beginning his pro-am round. He didn't say much to anybody and ignored a number of television cameras and other media types.
He did sign a few autographs to a few adept fans, such as Daniel Lauffer of Hurricane.
"That was a little bit of a trick, as John said he was going to be late for the tee box," Lauffer said. "He walked right past me, but I stuck [my souvenir] in his hand and he signed it. As you can see, he signed it upside-down, but I've got John Daly's signature."
Five-time West Virginia Open champion David Bradshaw just did miss getting into the field, losing a five-way playoff for the last of four spots up for grabs at the qualifier at Glade Springs.
Dick Mast, a 59-year-old veteran of the PGA, Nationwide and Champions tours, blew away the Cobb Course with an 8-under par 64, tying Steve Fox's course record.
Mast, a resident of Forest, Va., has won four times on the Nationwide Tour, the last coming in 1999. His best PGA finish was second at the 1992 Greater Milwaukee Open, and his best Champions finish was third twice, the latest being the 2006 Senior British Open.
Taking the second spot was Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, who fired a 66. Now 42, he played on the PGA Tour in 2008 before falling to the Nationwide the next year. This year, he has won the Ohio Open.
Alex Hamilton of Graniteville, S.C., was third with a 68. David Morland IV, a 41-year-old Canadian with 120 PGA starts, finished in a five-way tie at 69, joining Bradshaw, journeyman Len Mattiace and two others.
State pros Brad Westfall and John Ross shot 71s, two shots out of the running.
Back at The Greenbrier, there has been shuffling of the field from Friday's lineup. Dean Wilson, who finished second to Pettersson in Canada last week, entered the fold Monday morning, as did Kevin Stadler and Billy Mayfair. Out are Tommy Armour III and Shaun Micheel.
Two more changes came Monday evening: Parker McLachlin and Andres Romero withdrew, with Skip Kendall and Paul Stankowski taking their spots. One note about alternates: Steve Elkington has dropped from that list.
Pettersson is not the only freshly minted winner in the Greenbrier field.
Richard Johnson won the Scandinavian Masters last week in his native Sweden, making a 30-foot putt to beat Argentina's Rafa Echenique by a stroke. The field included British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who finished fourth.
The 34-year-old Stockholm native is trying to raise his game on this side of the Atlantic. He has made 12 of 19 PGA cuts but is 155th on the money list and 163rd in the FedExCup standings.
Pettersson, also a Swede, climbed from 66th to 24th in the money standings and shot up to 16th in the FedExCup standings with his win in Canada. He made the cut on the 1-under number, then went 13-under in the final 36 holes to seize the victory from Wilson, who led much of the way.
With the changes, 102 of the players participating in the Canadian Open are at The Greenbrier, including 59 who made the cut and nine of the top 12 (technically, all nine finished in the top four, including ties).
But a lot of them had trouble getting here. A charter from Toronto to Lewisburg was delayed so long that players and their families had to get off the plane, clear customs again and reboard.
Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said they were due in Lewisburg at 8:55 p.m. Sunday but instead arrived at 1:30 a.m. Monday.
Monday turned into a sunny day, which all involved would love to see from the opening round Thursday through Sunday's finale. At last forecast, Wednesday holds the best chance for thunderstorms, and a 40 percent chance is predicted on Thursday and a 30 percent chance Sunday.
Friday and Saturday are to be mostly sunny.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.