In with the new
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Hello, Brendon de Jonge. Goodbye, Phil Mickelson.
Hello, Webb Simpson. Goodbye, Stuart Appleby.
Hello, Trevor Immelman. Goodbye, Tom Watson.
And say hello to Michael Leitzig, Scott Stallings, Gary Woodland, Brian Davis and Derek Lamely and many more battling to become the second man to win The Greenbrier Classic.
Because, after all, the first champ is done for the week - as is the The Greenbrier's pro emeritus and the man whose image decorated Classic posters all over the resort's grounds.
Mickelson, Appleby and Watson, the marquee threesome, all missed the cut Friday as the Classic hit the halfway point. Watson finished with a nice birdie on the 18th, but was done in by his first-round 75. He finished at 6-over 146, five shots off the cut.
Mickelson and Appleby shot themselves out of it with rounds of 73 and 72, respectively, finishing at 3 over. Both needed a birdie on the finishing holes and couldn't do it - even worse, they bogeyed the short par-3 18th.
With those stars gone, it's time for players such as de Jonge and Simpson to come to the fore. On Friday they turned in rounds of 67 and 68, respectively, to tie for the lead at 7-under 133, a score that would have been pedestrian on the pre-renovation Old White TPC course.
De Jonge is the 31-year-old Zimbabwe native who played at Virginia Tech, thus owning a home advantage. Simpson is the two-time runner-up this year who is trying to climb from 53rd in the world to the top 50, a golden level that opens a number of lucrative doors.
They have combined for 56 top-25 finishes and 16 top-10s in the past two seasons, but are looking for their first winner's check.
"You know, I think the biggest thing is just getting out of my own way," de Jonge said. "It's very, very difficult to win out here; it's difficult to win anywhere."
Trevor Immelman, who led after Thursday, followed up his first-round 64 with an even-par 70 to remain at 6 under, one shot off the pace. His birdie on the 17th broke him away from a diverse pack sitting at 5 under.
Simpson hurdled that pack with three birdies on the final seven holes, including the 18th. On the par-3 hole that was playing shorter at 145 yards, he hit a sand wedge off the tee within 61/2 feet, then made the putt to give him a 65-68 start.
"Starting out, I didn't really hit many good shots, but I was kind of keeping the ball in front of me," he said. "And then I started kind of dialing it in a little more on the back. And 18 was icing on the cake on a day that could go either way, you know?
"So I wish I had birdied 17 with the driver I hit [325 yards], but to birdie 18 is always great."
De Jonge posted his score in the morning hours, which again yielded most of the lower scores. Of the seven rounds of 66 or better, six came off pre-noon tee times.
Starting at No. 10, he got his lone bogey out of the way at the 11th, and overcame that with birdies on Nos. 16, 17, 4 and 5. He also saved par on the par-3 third after hitting his tee shot into the "Valley of Sin" and still two-putting from 78 feet.
"I was a little bit shaky at first, but I made a couple good putts for par, which kept the round going," he said. "And I played nicely on the back nine [Old White's front nine]. There was a lot of crowd support out there, which was nice, and yes, a couple of birdies got it going."
Englishman Davis fired the tournament's second 64 to jump into the five-way tie for fourth at 5-under 135. Davis, Stallings and Letzig are looking for their first PGA Tour wins, but have different career tracks - Davis is a 36-year-old veteran with five career second-place finishes, Stallings is a rookie with six top-25 finishes and Letzig is a 31-year-old drowning in the FedExCup points standings.
Woodland is the hottest player in the bunch, with a win this season and a No. 40 world ranking. Lamely won a tournament in 2010 but has made just three of 19 cuts this season.
Those are some of the 75 players who made the cut, which landed at 1 over - and that number is one of the bigger stories of the week. That cut number was three shots tougher than at 2010 Classic, which produced scores that prompted what appears to be a successful renovation of Old White.
The competitors averaged 71.117 strokes on Friday and 70.98 on Thursday for a two-round mark of 71.045. That compares with the 69.203 after two rounds in 2010, nearly a two-stroke difference.
There were some notables among 81 players on the wrong side of the new average. Among them were Davis Love III, John Daly, Jose Maria Olazabal, J.B. Holmes, Retief Goosen, Brad Faxon, Rocco Mediate and amateur Christian Brand of Charleston.
2010 Classic runner-up Jeff Overton shot a 67 to join the 15 players making the cut on the number. Steve Allan and Andre Stolz, two of the Monday open qualifiers, also made the cut at 139 and 138, respectively.
And they all beat Mickelson, Appleby and Watson.
Mickelson and Appleby both needed a birdie on the 18th to save their weekend. Appleby's tee shot bounced over the green, causing the defending champ to drop his club in disgust and disbelief.
Mickelson's shot impressed fans from behind the 18th tee, but he knew it was a touch too long. He faced a 19-foot downhill putt for birdie and missed wide and long. He missed the 6-footer coming back for an insult-adding bogey.
"This has been a really fun few days," he said. "I wish we had a couple more days here."
Reach Doug Smock 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.