- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
- 0 Shares
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- The gates opened at the Greenbrier on Saturday, and the venerable resort in the West Virginia mountains did not come crumbling down.
Sure, the Greenbrier Classic was without its two headliners, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and larger-than-life resort owner Jim Justice was likely feeling a bit blue after reportedly parting with seven-figure fees to attract the game's biggest stars -- only to see them long gone when the network television cameras zoomed in for the weekend.
But Justice is a billionaire who put up the cash to make a splash, and that's exactly what occurred -- but in a different sort of way. Tiger and Phil made headlines on Friday for all the wrong reasons, both missing the cut in the same event for the first time as professionals. And yet they did make headlines, and this remote resort got plenty of exposure.
Nobody expects Justice to be bouncing off the walls in the resort's famous bunker, secretly built years ago to protect government officials in the case of nuclear attack. Woods and Mickelson missing a cut in the same event? That's a different kind of bomb going off. Justice might not have gotten a return on his investment, but as the 375th wealthiest American on Forbes' list of such folks, he's probably going to weather it just fine.
And in reality, so will Tiger and Phil.
While both said all the right things afterward, you get the sense that neither minded having the weekend off.
Mickelson talked about getting over to the Open Championship early for practice this coming week and being excited after seemingly finding the secret to links golf a year ago, when he gave Darren Clarke a push on the final day before settling for a tie for second. Turns out, Mickelson decided after missing the Greenbrier cut to enter the Scottish Open week prior to the year's third major to get a little more in-tournament work.
Woods, especially, would never admit as much, but coming off a big victory on Sunday at the AT&T National, playing two successive weeks in oppressive heat and humidity, and with a bigger prize awaiting his attention across the Atlantic, this might not be such a bad thing.
"It happens, you know?'' Woods said evenly after his second-round 69 was 1 shot too many to make the 36-hole cut. "You miss cuts out here. Been doing it for a long time and I think I've missed nine cuts, one or two every couple of years, I guess.''
Woods wasn't altogether coherent on the topic, but he is correct about the nine cuts as pro. It's amazing, really, to think that he's missed so few in his career that is in its 17th year. For Mickelson, it was his 64th missed cut in his 20 years as a pro.
It was just the second time that Woods has missed two cuts in a season (he also did so in 2005, a year he won the Masters and Open Championship) and now he's missed four in the past three years.
Some will suggest calamity, but that's far from the case. Woods has won three times this year and leads the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup list. He's ranked fourth in the world. He had one of those weeks where he simply could not figure out distances with his irons, and 71-69 is not exactly slapping it around and playing lousy.
But at Greenbrier's Old White TPC course, you need to make birdies. U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson shot 65-66 and leads by 1 at 9 under. There have been 62, 63 and 64s shot here. This is an old, historic golf course that was toughened after Stuart Appleby shot 59 in 2010, but it's still a venue that is going to take a beating when the weather is warm and somebody gets just as hot with the putter.
John Daly is around for the weekend, as is 62-year-old Tom Watson, who made the cut in a non-major PGA Tour event for the first time in five years. (Watson nearly won the Open Championship in 2009 and tied for 22nd in last year's third major.)
So yes, it is a bit puzzling that the game's two active wins leaders (Mickelson passed Watson when he won at Pebble Beach) could not figure out the Old White while guys like Daly, Watson and PGA Tour rookie Charlie Beljan (heard of him?) are still playing.
In reality, missing a cut for one of the rare times in his career shines a light again on Woods' mastery over the years. The wonder should not be that he missed a cut, but that he hasn't done so more often. Only twice previously had he followed a victory with a missed cut in his next event.
"I had my distance control dialed in [at Congressional in his AT&T National win] and this week I was hitting the ball so far,'' Woods said. "I know it's hot, I know we're at altitude. My sand wedge is going 142, 145 [yards]; wedge is 160. These are numbers that I don't usually hit. Some of the bigger guys hit those numbers but I don't, and I was really, really struggling to get the ball at the right number.''
Woods said one of the "hallmarks of my game'' is hitting the ball pin high, and when he does that you know he will play well. It didn't happen this week, mainly because the clubs that have held him back for most of the year -- the short irons -- needed to be employed so often.
On approaches from 50 to 125 yards, Woods ranks 120th on the PGA Tour, which suggests he's not hitting the ball close enough with his scoring clubs. It's been a frequent problem as he's worked through the swing changes with instructor Sean Foley that now see him driving the ball better and hitting more greens.
Will it be an issue when he heads to the Open Championship at Royal Lytham?
"It's not going to be this warm and we're not going to be at altitude, we'll be on the beach,'' he said of the links terrain in northwest England.
Woods struggled with the speed of the greens at the Greenbrier, and while Open Championship greens are traditionally not lightning-quick, as he had seen in recent weeks, you get the sense that Woods didn't mind moving on from these putting surfaces.
For him, it's best to look ahead and get his mind and body ready for the cold, windy temperatures of the United Kingdom. There, the stakes will be higher, and the Claret Jug they give to the winner is worth far more than anything Justice could have handed out.
4dAlex Perry at Wentworth
8dZach Jones, ESPN Stats & Information