Memorable view following Classic’s Big 3
To follow two of the greatest players in the history of golf, and another with a membership in the "59 Club."
All in the same group. All on a West Virginia course.
It may never happen again. Probably won't - on any course. And what transpired made it all the more unlikely to ever see it again.
Stunningly, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson and Stuart Appleby all missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic. So those who weren't at The Old White TPC Thursday and/or Friday won't even get a chance to see them individually over the weekend. It's a blow to the tournament's spectators and a blow to those running the event and hoping for decent television numbers.
But for two hot and steamy days, state golf fans can say they saw two of golf's best ever - Watson and Mickelson - tackle the state's best course together. They can say they saw Appleby, who recorded his 59 last year to win the Classic, complete quite a trio.
"We had a great crowd out there," Watson said afterward. "There's no question they were out to see ... especially Phil. He hit some magical shots, as he always does."
Yes, some of the magic tricks fell flat. Mickelson and Appleby finished at 3 over par, while Watson finished at 6 over.
But there was that opportunity to watch some Masters of the game from inside the ropes.
It was quite a view.
There was Watson, standing on the first tee, accepting his introduction.
"A great champion," said announcer Paul Moran, "and Hall of Famer, Tom Watson."
The applause that followed Watson down the steps and up the first part of the first fairway was something to behold. The crowd understood and appreciated not only an eight-time major champion (sixth all-time), but also one who has carried himself and his age (61) with class.
He knocked his drive on the par 4 a decent 293 yards. Appleby went for 297.
Then there was Lefty. Mickelson, fourth in the FedExCup standings, pounded his drive 323 yards.
It was a sight to see the crowd lined along the fairway to check out the action.
On that first hole, Watson came within an inch of draining a long putt and giving the spectators a thrill.
For the trio, however, it was par, par, par.
They trudged to the second tee box. And it's not like you and your buddies heading to a next tee. No razzing. Heck, no conversation. In fact, separation. Business.
At the tee, Mickelson pointed to an area on the fairway with his club. Then he hit to it. "Good shot," said his caddy.
Appleby, next to hit, addressed his ball and took two half swings before cutting loose.
Watson? The man stepped right up to the ball, took a quick glance and hit.
Same as before. Mickelson way ahead of the other two.
But what wasn't the same as before - over the years - was Mickelson's play.
Around the No. 2 green, Watson found a sand trap, but pitched to within 4 inches. Appleby almost made a long uphill putt.
Mickelson, also in the trap, chunked his shot. To be blunt, dog ugly. He recovered for a bogey, but still ...
At the No. 3 tee, Appleby's caddy stepped off the yardage behind the par-3, 191-yard marker.
Then, when Mickelson hit, the response was "ooh." But not a good "ooh."
He was in the sand again. Again left.
Lefty, appropriately named early in the round, took his time. He looked perplexed. And he apparently was perplexed. His shot in the sand could have made worms duck their heads. Sand again.
Mickelson's fate was another bogey - and, later, a cut, the first since the 2010 Barclays, a 17-tournament streak snapped. Disappointing for the tournament, yes. Not so much for Mickelson.
"I played well today," he said. "I really don't know what to be disappointed about. I hit a few shots on the front nine that left me no chance to recover."
He spoke of the visit.
"The reason I came is I saw last year 22 under won. But every course has its ego. 'We gotta make it longer, harder, longer, harder. We don't want pros shooting way under par.' I thought, 'How refreshing that 22 under won. Let's have at it and have some fun.' I didn't know it went under this renovation. This course is really difficult, I thought."
Watson, likewise, seemed OK with the outcome.
"I actually played some pretty good golf," he said. "I hit some very good quality shots on the front nine. I hit four of them that hit on the green and went over. The greens were just a little bit hard for me, the shots I was playing into them. It helps to be a little longer, like the guys on the leader board."
His take on the experience?
"I enjoyed playing with Phil and Stuart. It was disappointing for all three of us. That's the game. Staying at the Greenbrier soothes the wounds a little, though. You get spoiled pretty good around here."
As did the Mountain State fans watching the trio the past couple of days.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvin...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.