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Mickelson returning to Greenbrier Classic

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - All I want for the Fourth of July is for Phil Mickelson to make the stinkin' cut.

Really, Lefty, do you have to string us along? For the last two summers, we have waited for you to contend at the Greenbrier Classic, the young tournament in our little corner of the golf world, to perhaps knock heads with Webb Simpson or some young gun on Sunday.

Instead, you've flirted merely with making the cut. In 2011, you had a 19-foot birdie try on the 18th to stick around - and you didn't just miss, you three-putted. In 2012, you missed by three shots.

C'mon, man!

All half-joking aside, it was exhilarating to see Mickelson commit to taking on the Old White TPC again four weeks hence. It was also relieving: The lack of big-name announcements was starting to make me nervous.

Mickelson can still play. Since missing the cut at the Greenbrier Classic and the British Open in a three-week stretch last year, he has climbed back into the top 10 in the world rankings.

How did he pull that off?

That started with a run through the FedExCup playoffs to the Tour Championship, which essentially crowns the Tour's top 30 players. He tied for second in the World Golf Championships event in China and started 2013 with a win at the Phoenix Open, where he has hero status from his college days. That was his 41st win all-time.

Since then, he has had two third-place finishes and another 16th. He has missed two cuts, however, including his last start, The Players Championship in early May. After three weeks off - he even took a pass on the Memorial - he'll be back at it this week in Memphis.

Then he'll play the U.S. Open in Merion. If he repeats his schedule of 2012, he'll take two weeks off before coming to the Classic.

And he'll make it a classic, one way or another.

For one thing, he refuses to be boring on the course. He's a daring sort, and doesn't mind attempting a crazy shot when put in adverse conditions. He's usually great with the fans, both on and off the course.

But his best quality will be drawing a few other top players to the field, which is what he did best in 2011. In 2012, he was upstaged a bit by Tiger Woods, which is to be expected.

I don't think we'll see Woods here this time around, though resort owner Jim Justice reports that "he hasn't said no." Matt Kuchar, the 2010 Classic participant who has climbed to fourth in the world, is not coming - he took a sponsor's exemption into the French Open the same week.

Steve Stricker, who came last year, is playing a scaled-back schedule, which I guarantee will include his favored John Deere Classic. That's a week after the Greenbrier, in the Quad Cities. Scratch him.

Bo Van Pelt remains listed as a Greenbrier commitment, even after he told me last weekend he won't be here. The emerging Robert Garrigus disappeared from the commitment list for now, probably because of his induction into fatherhood.

European Tour players also on the PGA Tour? Forget about them. If you think Rory McIlroy will skip the Irish Open (week before Greenbrier), or play that, jet back to America and back over for the British Open, you're out of your mind.

And Justice said he made a run at Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, to no avail.

Against that backdrop, Mickelson's addition is critical. He joins Webb Simpson as world top-20 stars and winners of major tournaments. The only other world top-50 to commit is D.A. Points, whose rise in the golf ranks has this state's stamp on it (2004 Pete Dye Classic champion).

But that should be bumped up by a player or three. If I've learned nothing else in the past three Greenbrier Classics, star power begets more star power. That has played out in spurts since Mickelson's early commitment for the 2011 event.

With added credibility, this tournament should land one, two or three players in the world top 50, maybe a few more. A few have played here as many as three times: Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson come to mind along with Garrigus, Carl Pettersson, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas.

Then there are the others who we have yet to see, including Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner. Russell Henley, who won his first Tour start, is the biggest name among rookies.

And then there is the really big fish, I believe, in Bubba Watson. He is trying to re-establish his position among the world's very best, and needs decent fields in which to do it.

As you may remember, the suspense goes right up to 5 p.m. the Friday before the tournament, when entries close. That's June 28, just 23 days away.

A year ago, the surprises kept on coming. By the time they stopped, the Classic field was in the top third of the "regular" events. Can that happen against this month?

Chances are, Mickelson's commitment will knock some pretty good players off the fence and onto Old White. And once again, we'll have ourselves a heck of a fun Fourth of July week.

It will be more fun, however, if we get one wish.

C'mon Lefty - make the stinkin' cut!

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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