Immelman takes first-round lead at Greenbrier
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - The objective of a tougher challenge for the second edition of The Greenbrier Classic has been met after 18 holes, but Trevor Immelman still had his way with The Old White TPC.
The 31-year-old veteran South African signed for a 6-under-par 64 before the clock struck 12. That stood up through the entire afternoon, giving the South African the top spot by himself.
Immelman outshot five players at 65 and four more at 66. The 64 is his best round of the season, and it's a welcome development for the 2008 Masters winner, who has fought through wrist surgery and the protracted slump it brought on. He has come close this year, but he still is looking for his first top-10 finish since the 2008 PGA Grand Slam.
Teeing off on the 10th hole, he started with three birdies in the first five holes and finished with seven, two on the par 3s. His only bogey came on the 16th, when his tee shot found the expanded lake on the reshaped 444-yard par 4.
He is a long way from regaining the top-20 world ranking he enjoyed in 2007 and 2008, but enjoyed a good morning of progress.
"Well, obviously I'm excited with the 64 today," he said. "You know, anytime you shoot a number like that, it's exciting. That's why you put all the hard work in."
Immelman hit 17 greens in regulation, hit nine of 14 fairways and was more than solid on the greens. His birdie putts included those from 11, 16 and 48 feet, the latter coming on the sixth hole. A birdie on the 10th didn't require such work, as he hit his approach within 2 feet.
The five players at 65 are a representative mixture of youth and experience, with Billy Mayfair representing the latter. The 45-year-old has played full-time on the PGA Tour since 1989, though he had to return to qualifying school to retain his card for this season. He went 4 under on the back nine, which he played first.
Webb Simpson is one of the hot young Americans in the sport, and the 25-year-old is looking to crack the top 10 in the FedExCup points standings. More important, he sits 53rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, just below a magic top-50 level that would get him in the small-field, big-purse Bridgestone Invitational next week in Akron, Ohio.
Steven Bowditch is an Australian rookie on the Tour, looking to hop into the top 125 in those standings, which would put him in the playoffs that begin in late August. Derek Lamely is the most desperate of the bunch, 189th on the Tour money list and in serious danger of losing his card. He parred the entire back nine and then exploded for five birdies on the last six holes on the front.
Lamely chipped in from 251/2 feet for birdie on No. 9, his last of the day.
"Had a great lie. It was as easy of a chip as you could ever hope for," he said. "And on 8, 235 [yards] and I hit it [within] 3 or 4 feet, so those two were really good."
The last 65 was recorded by Gary Woodland, who continues his out-of-nowhere climb up the Tour charts. He has earned more than $2.4 million and is 11th on the FedExCup standings.
Known as a sometimes ridiculously long hitter, Woodland holed an eagle from 101 yards out on the par-4 fourth, then capped his round with a birdie on the par-3 18th, which played at 160 yards. He needed a 6-foot putt on the finishing hole to erase the memory of a tough-luck bogey on the par-5 17th.
Woodland smacked his tee shot on the 616-yard hole into the creek on the right side. After he dropped, he blasted his third shot 312 yards, rolling through the drying-out fairways and over the firm green and up against the grandstand. His chip back went long and he couldn't save par.
"It was a tough shot over there. You can't be too long - you know, I had 300 yards and I hit a 2-iron," Woodland said. "I didn't think I would go over the green."
Leading the foursome at 66 is Brendon de Jonge, the Zimbabwean Virginia Tech graduate who finished third at the 2010 Classic. Tied with him are rookie Kyle Stanley, veteran Chris DiMarco and Canadian David Hearn.
Those 10 players turned in low scores, but the other story of the day was the relative lack of low scores on Old White, which had its greens renovated, most holes lengthened and other changes made.
To give one example of how players raked the course over in 2010, there were 24 scores of 63, 64, 65 and 66. Here is another: Entering today's second round, the cut line sits at 1-over. Last year's 36-hole cut was 2-under, nearly 3-under.
The list of players who didn't fare so well might have been as impressive as the performance of those among the leaders.
Trailed by many throughout the morning, the marquee pairing of Phil Mickelson, defending champion Stuart Appleby and Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson combined to go 6-over. Mickelson was the best of the bunch at even, while Watson ballooned to 5-over in a birdie-less round.
Sergio Garcia will need a few birdies after a 72, for one example. Jeff Overton, whose hard-luck runner-up finish last year made him a popular pick this week, struggled to a 74. J.B. Holmes suffered a 76, while Jonathan Byrd, 17th in the FedExCup standings, needed an 18th-hole birdie for a 77.
Amateur Christian Brand, the Capital High and Marshall graduate, finished with a 78. He is beating one other golfer, Brazilian rookie Alexandre Rocha, who shot an 80.
Reach Doug Smock 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.