Vijay Singh lines up a birdie putt on the No. 17 green, one of four birdies to finish his first round.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - For one day, one winner of dozens of tournaments rediscovered some of his magical touch at the Greenbrier Classic.No, not that one.Vijay Singh, who owns 34 PGA Tour titles, three majors and the 2008 FedExCup, shot a 7-under-par 63 to take a one-shot lead in the first round at the Old White TPC. Jeff Maggert, Martin Flores and Jonathan Byrd turned in 64s on a day where the greens were soft and slower and 62 players broke par.
Of those, only Byrd wasn't playing with a morning tee time, taking advantage of mostly still air and humid conditions. Still, it was one of Singh's best rounds of the year."Gosh, I don't know where that came from," said the 49-year-old native of Fiji. "I've been playing pretty good golf for a while, but just never got any scoring going. But today I hit it close and drove the ball really well, hit a lot of greens and made some nice putts."Singh fired a 6-under 30 on Old White's back nine, scoring four birdies in a row and six in the last eight holes. It could have been more, had he hit a 6-foot putt on the 14th.That was all right, because he made a 36-footer on the 15th, hit within 41/2 feet on the 16th, 3 feet on the par-5 17th and 61/2 feet on the par-3 18th."You know, it's my first good round of the year that I really felt comfortable with," he said. "It's a good way to start a tournament."
Singh has made 13 of 16 cuts this year, but has just one top-10 finish. Ranking 79th in the FedExCup standings, he hasn't won a tournament since that banner year of 2008.Chasing him is another elder statesman, 48-year-old Maggert, who has had to return to "Q School" two out of the last three years.Flores, playing with 2011 West Virginia Amateur runner-up Jess Farrell, is another struggling tour pro who has had to go through "Q School" several times. He played bogey-free golf in shooting his career low, making a pair of 21-foot putts on the front nine.Byrd, a three-time Classic participant, had eight birdies and a mostly super day on the greens. He led an afternoon wave which scored an average 70.72, a bit more than the morning's 69.87.By late afternoon, a cooling wind whipped up and several greens got a little harder and faster. But Byrd adapted and hit six birdie putts ranging from 12 to 38 feet. His 26-footer on No. 7, over a ridge, was particularly testy.
And Byrd did all this with a nasty cold.
"I didn't really know what to expect, didn't know what my energy level would be," he said. "I felt really comfortable out there, I started by making some really good swings. I made some beautiful putts, I putted great all day."U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Argentinian Andres Romero, both with morning tee times, scored 65s. Garth Mulroy, one of the latest players on the course, matched that.Simpson, also a Classic third-timer, stuck two approaches inside 4 feet and two others inside 9. It was almost reminiscent of 2010, when the field used the Old White's greens as pillows."The golf course is definitely a course you could tear apart today," said Tiger Woods, who played with Simpson. "The greens are firm but slow - drive the ball in the fairway and you're going to have a bunch of holes where it's going to be 9-iron [approach] on down."The ball is flying, it's warm, we're slightly at altitude. So definitely a golf course where I think most of the guys are going to be shooting 2, 3 under par or better."Woods was not one of them, not after scoring a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 17th. He essentially handed three shots to the field on that hole, and finished with a 1-over 71.
Phil Mickelson shot the same score and gave away several shots. He three-putted to score a double bogey on one of the easier par-4s, No. 5, and he bogeyed the par-5 12th.On the latter hole, he chipped from 24 feet to within 11 feet, and three-putted from there."I don't know how to explain it, other than I'm trying to make the first one, I ran it a little too far by about 4 feet both times, and ended up missing them," he said. "It happens, unfortunately. I felt like I let four shots slide there, not just those two."Mickelson was the middle player of his threesome, with 2010 Classic champ Stuart Appleby shooting a 72. Scott Stallings, the 2011 champ, turned in a crowd-pleasing 67, birdieing the last three holes.That gives him three straight birdies on the par-3 18th, which played at 162 yards."Yeah, it was nice," he said. "18's a cool hole and not everybody really likes ending on a par-3, but it's a hole that changed my life, so it's a cool way to end the day."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.