Kim steps into Greenbrier lead
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Through the first two rounds of this year's Greenbrier Classic, the historic Old White TPC had its groove back.
That was until Anthony Kim and Jimmy Walker found theirs during Saturday's third round of the second annual PGA Tour event at The Greenbrier Resort.
Kim and Walker carded matching 8-under-par 62s for the lowest rounds thus far of the tournament, which moved them to the top of the leader board.
Kim, who is from Los Angeles, surged into the lead at 10-under 200 after 54 holes, but only had a one-stroke lead over rookie Scott Stallings, who followed up his 5-under 65 Friday with a 4-under 66 to stand at 9-under 201.
Gary Woodland, who posted a 3-under 67, and Friday's co-leader Webb Simpson, who turned in a 1-under 69, were tied for third at 8-under 202. Walker, who made Friday's cut right on the nose at 1 over par, Bill Hass, who clubbed a 5-under 65, and Chris Couch were tied for fifth at 7-under 203.
Brendon de Jonge, who tied with Simpson for the second-round lead, slipped off the pace Saturday with a 2-over 72 and was tied for 11th at 5-under 205.
Old White played nearly two strokes lower Saturday than Friday as 39 of the 75 golfers were under par for the third round. During Friday's second round golfers averaged 71.117 strokes while that dipped to 69.347 Saturday.
During last year's inaugural event, Stuart Appleby become just the fifth golfer in Tour history to shoot a 59, and that finishing score helped him win the event at 22 under. That led Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, after conferring with PGA officials, to upgrade the historic par-70 Old White, which opened in 1914. Sixteen of Old White's 18 holes were renovated and about 243 yards added in length.
"They did move a lot of the tees up and had some accessible pins, but you still had to hit good shots,'' said Kim of Saturday's course setup. "The pins were in positions where you could roll it off the hill and the ball would come toward the flag.
"At the same time, if you short-sided yourself you're going for a 20-footer for par. So you still had to hit the fairways and you still had to hit good iron shots and still make the putts.''
Kim's best round of the year leaves him in good position to pick up his first win since last year's Shell Houston Open, after which he had thumb surgery and took three months off. He can also qualify for next week's Bridgestone Invitational with a victory today.
"The last couple of weeks have really turned my golf game around, especially starting at the British [Open],'' said Kim, who finished tied for fifth at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England. "So I'm looking forward to pretty good things throughout this year.''
Kim, who was at 2 under when the day began, had eight birdies, including three straight on Nos. 10-12, and played the back nine at 5 under.
"I was just hitting smart golf shots,'' the 26-year-old Kim said. "I was starting to think my way around the course instead of just get up to a tee and just try to hit it as hard as I can. That's not how you play golf.
"Usually it doesn't work out. But I started hitting some fades off the tee, which this course you need to do, and made a couple putts. Hit the smart shot, even not going at a couple pins, which is hard for me do to. Hit it 15 feet right of the pin and be OK with it.''
Stallings, a 26-year-old rookie who has six top-25 finishes this year, is seeking his first PGA Tour win. He only had four birdies Saturday, but continued his streak of 42 consecutive rounds without a bogey.
"I'm loving it,'' said Stallings, who made just eight cuts in 20 events prior to this week. "That's what you play and practice for. To have an opportunity to win a golf tournament is phenomenal.
"I played within myself. I guess I did all the things you're supposed to do. I kept the ball below the hole and I hit it to the fat part of the greens when I didn't have a good angle even though I really didn't want to. Hats off to my caddie. He did an unbelievable good job of keeping me patient as far as pulling me back a little and making me play a little smarter.''
Walker turned in a career-best round with his 8-under 62, finishing with eight birdies in a bogey-free round.
"I could feel it kind of coming,'' said Walker, who won a Nationwide Tour event in 2007 at the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport. "My caddie kept saying, 'Just stay patient. We'll get a few to drop.'
"A couple started to drop and they just kept kind of falling. I kept hitting really close iron shots all day. When you do that, you're going to make a few usually.''
After struggling since coming back from his surgery, Kim said a win would mean a lot.
"I think it would actually mean more than any of the other wins I've had just because of the fact that I've come back from something,'' he said. "I didn't know where my golf game was going.
"I always had belief in my ability and confidence that I would keep trying, no matter how many times I would fail. But you never know with this game. You never know if you're going to come back and not be able to hit a fade, not be able to hit the bunker shots like you're used to hitting. So I'm excited about the rest of the year, the FedExCup playoffs and the chance to win a golf tournament.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkin...@wvgazette.com