A homer for Simpson
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - If Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are just going to hand somebody the proverbial golfing torch, Webb Simpson will happily seize it.
Woods, whose recruitment to the third Greenbrier Classic came with great fanfare, fell one shot short of making the cut, managing a 69 Friday to finish at an even-par 140. Mickelson did even worse, shooting his second 71 in a row to finish at 2 over par.
Simpson, the U.S. Open champion, fired a solid 66, hitting a 6-foot putt for birdie on the final hole to finish with a 9-under 131.
Simpson had no bogeys and four birdies, including back to back on the seventh and the difficult par-3 eighth. After a 2-hour, 25-minute thunderstorm delay, he birdied the par-5 12th and stuck his tee shot on the par-3 18th, which played at a shorter 137 yards.
Having shot up to fifth in the world and ninth in the FedExCup standings, Simpson is looking for his fourth career PGA Tour victory and second in three starts. He finished one stroke back in the 2011 Classic, surging to the lead briefly in the final round.
It has been three weeks since Simpson's memorable U.S. Open win, when he watched his competition falter from the clubhouse. This time around, he stole the show with 36 solid holes in front of the large pro-Woods gallery.
"Yeah, I mean, I just seem to enjoy playing with him," said the 26-year-old Wake Forest graduate. "He's great to play with, and he's fun and exciting. At each tournament I get a verse, a Bible verse, and kind of meditate on it, and more than anything it helps me stay calm.
"It's a big atmosphere out there, so I'm thankful the first two days went well."
For Woods and Mickelson, it was the first time they have missed the cut in the same event as professionals. It happened at the 1993 Byron Nelson Classic, when Woods was still an amateur playing in a few pro tournaments.
Woods missed his second cut of the season for the first time since 2005, and suffered a setback in his drive to retake the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. He missed the ninth cut in 272 starts as a professional, and missed the cut for the third time following a victory.
He suffered bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes immediately after the delay, and couldn't get closer than 32 feet for a critical birdie on the par-5 17th. He would have needed to ace the 18th to make the cut.
"It happens, you know?" he said. "You miss cuts out here. Been doing it for a long time and I think I've missed nine cuts or whatever like that in a couple years, I guess."
Mickelson missed the Greenbrier cut for the second year in a row, and did it with repeated disasters. He suffered a double bogey and two bogeys, and lost a birdie when he was assessed a penalty stroke on the 11th green. His coin slipped out of his hand when he was marking his ball, moving it.
He has not played well recently, failing to break par in his last seven rounds dating back to his first-round 79 at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio. He has not missed the cut two years in a row in the same tournament since 2003-04, when he did so at the Chrysler Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.
"I really enjoy the golf course," Mickelson said. "I think it's just a wonderful test, and I have not played very well on the greens both years, but nothing that should have led to these scores."
Charlie Beljan, a struggling rookie who played on a mini-tour last year, fired the best round of the day, an 8-under 62. That came after a first-round 70, and propelled him into an unfamiliar stratosphere, one stroke off the lead.
"Today was the best day of my career," he said. "It was wonderful from the first hole, making birdie, to the last hole I made bogey, but it still didn't matter.
"I shot 62, which was my career-low round out here. And then to do it on the PGA Tour - each time I tee it up out here is a treat, and then to do something like I did today is really something special.
"So I'm only halfway there. I look forward to the weekend. I'm sure it will be a zoo and I'm looking forward to it."
Jonathan Byrd, Jeff Maggert, Jerry Kelly and Martin Flores are also at 8 under, though Flores has two holes remaining in the second round. He and 11 other golfers were still on the course when the horn blew to stop play at 8:45 p.m. due to darkness.
Those golfers included West Virginia Amateur representative Jess Ferrell, who was a respectable 3 over par for the day after a first-round 80.
They will return at 8:30 a.m. today to finish their rounds. The third round will follow, with threesomes going off of split tees in an attempt to end by 6 p.m., within the CBS television window.
J.B. Holmes and Charlie Wi are two strokes behind the leader at 133, with Bob Estes and five others at 134. 2010 Classic runner-up Jeff Overton led a nine-man group at 135. Steve Stricker, who birdied holes No. 13-17 to make his 300th cut, leads the 136 grouping.
Those at 137 include first-round leader Vijay Singh, who followed his opening-round 63 with a 4-over-par 74.
The cut will not move from 1-under 139, as 77 players finished at that score or better. Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson is among those making the cut, finishing at 2-under 138. He had four birdies on the front nine to put him in good position when the thunder rumbled.
After the storm, he finished a back nine that contained eight pars.
"It actually helped me," Watson said. "Gave me a chance to get my legs back a little bit, relax a little bit. Plus I had a chance to eat good Greenbrier food out here. They spoil you here."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.