Greenbrier Classic notebook
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - If you want to see the marquee threesome in the first round Thursday at The Greenbrier Classic, set your alarm clocks.
Early. If you're driving from Charleston, really, really early.
Stuart Appleby, the second-year tournament's defending champion, will be joined by Phil Mickelson, the world's highest-ranked player in the field, and Tom Watson, the resort's pro emeritus who requires virtually no introduction.
The Classic's pairings were released Tuesday, confirming the marquee threesome. If you want to see every shot from that trio in the first round, you will need to report to the 10th tee at The Old White TPC at 7:40 a.m. sharp.
You can sleep in Friday, though, as Appleby, Mickelson and Watson start at 12:40 p.m. on the first tee.
Appleby wasn't surprised at all that he would be playing with two stars with a combined 78 Tour victories - in fact, Mickelson and Watson are tied for ninth place on the all-time list, with 39 each. The Australian is rather excited, and expects to see a large following.
"Phil, I've not played with for a while," Appleby said. "Tom, yeah, it's going to be a very new experience, certainly going to be very new. One, a legend of the game and one still becoming a legend of the game, absolutely, and me sort of stuck, the sandwich in the middle.
"I'll pull a couple of interested spectators, but I think those two guys will pull 99 percent of what's out there for the first two days."
Mickelson has yet to swing around The Old White, but he'll appear today in the last go-round of practice which includes a two-shift pro-am. But Watson played a round Tuesday, and said fans are in for a treat.
"I've never played with Phil before in a regular tournament," Watson said. "He's a magician, that guy. He's an absolute magician."
In the first two rounds Thursday and Friday, all players have an early tee time (between 7 and 9 a.m.) and a later time (noon to 2 p.m.), and will start once on the front nine and once on the back. The reason is very simple: That's the only way you get the rounds of 156 players in comfortably in the roughly 14 hours between sunrise and sunset.
The top-drawing players typically get the times toward the middle of each grouping. After the Stu/Lefty/Tom pairing, a very stout group of Anthony Kim, Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson goes off the 10th tee at 7:50.
Late arrivers Thursday can follow this trio: John Daly, Sergio Garcia and Davis Love III, going off the first tee at 12:40 p.m. Gary Woodland, Bill Haas and Jonathan Byrd - ranked 40th, 47th and 50th in the world - follow at 12:50.
Christian Brand, the Capital High and Marshall University graduate who got in by winning the West Virginia Amateur, will tee off at 1:40 p.m. off the 10th tee. Here's the kicker: Brand is the oldest man in a group that also includes Joseph Bramlett and Bio Kim.
Brand and Bramlett are both 23, with Brand a month older. Bio Kim, a South Korean who is no relation to American Anthony Kim, is three-plus weeks short of his 21st birthday. He is the youngest member of the PGA Tour.
Both of the pros need a big week - or three - to get in the running to keep their Tour cards. They have combined to make 15 cuts out of 38 starts, with Bramlett 194th on the money list and Bio Kim 158th. The top 125 secure cards for 2012; the 126-150 spots have limited status.
The Classic is moving about three weeks earlier next season. That may be good or bad, but it is leaving one of the more "bubble-icious" spots on the calendar. A whole lot of players are riding a whole lot of bubbles.
Of immediate importance is landing a bid into next week's Bridgestone Invitational, a World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio. That is a no-cut event, and there are essentially two ways to make the field: (a) win a Tour event, or (b) crack the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking by the end of this week.
The closest player to the top 50, not already qualified, is Palmer at No. 52 and Simpson at No. 53. Anthony Kim needs to rally from No. 62 and J.B. Holmes from 65th, but they may need to win this week to climb to the top 50 anyway. Second place may not be enough.
After the Akron event is the PGA Championship, the last of the four majors. The top 50 make that field automatically, and another of the PGA's criteria is to make a special top-70 money list that began with the 2010 Bridgestone and ends this week. Additionally, other players in the world top 100 likely will receive a "special exemption."
Appleby is playing in Akron because he won the Australian Masters in late 2010, but he is in trouble on the PGA front. He has slid to 114th in the world and is 122nd on the special money list. Brendan De Jonge (109th world, 68th special list) needs a good week, as does Carl Pettersson (103rd world, 96th special list) and Brandt Jobe (71st special list), among others.
The FedExCup ramifications are even bigger for more people. There are four weeks before the top 125 players in those point standings enter a four-week playoff, and those on the outside are sentenced to a long hiatus.
All the players from 110th to 123rd are here: Nick O'Hern, Retief Goosen, Arjun Atwal, Billy Mayfair, Rod Pampling, Cameron Beckman, David Mathis, Camilo Vegas, William McGirt, Dean Wilson, David Hearn, Matt Jones, James Driscoll and Heath Slocum.
The No. 126 player, exactly one point out of the picture, is Michael Putnam. Eleven of the next 14 are also in the Classic field, with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods notable exceptions.
Reach Doug Smock 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.