Phil Mickelson saved par with this blast out of a greenside bunker on No. 4.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - It's often the hottest team, not necessarily the best team, that wins championships.That may also ring true for golf.When handicapping the Greenbrier Classic field, prognosticators would likely point to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson or other big names playing here this week.But the hottest golfer, at least in terms of Old White TPC, is none of the above.
Argentinean Andres Romero sat at even par after two rounds of last year's Classic before stringing together weekend rounds of 66 and 65, finishing at 9 under and one shot short of being a part of the playoff eventually won by Scott Stallings.On Thursday, it didn't take long for Romero to carry that momentum into this year's tournament, as he posted a 31 on the front nine and plugged his way to a 5-under-par 65 in the first round."Last year I played very well here, I like this course, I'm playing well and I'm hitting the ball just like I like it," Romero said via interpreter. "I made a bogey on the last hole but I'm really happy with my golf today. After the Memorial I've been playing really well."Indeed, his tie for second at the Memorial could've been a bit of a turning point for Romero. He missed six cuts in 13 tournaments before the Memorial, and a tie for 29th at the Byron Nelson Championship had been his highest finish of the year.But it's pretty obvious Romero feels right at home in the hills around Old White, and this time around he doesn't have a mountain range worth of ground to make up."It's nice to start with a 5 under," Romero said. "There are three more days but I think if I work hard this week I can win."Stricker's Ryder Cup bidSteve Stricker had originally planned to skip the Greenbrier Classic, but changed his mind.In fact, Stricker had already given his normal caddy the week off, meaning his wife, Nicki, was left to haul the clubs around.The sudden change of heart really isn't difficult to explain as Davis Love III could probably tell you.See, Stricker is currently 14th in Ryder Cup points, six spots away from automatic qualification for the team captained by Love.
The top eight in the standings - currently Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Woods, Simpson, Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson - are on the team, and the final four spots are chosen by the captain, in this case Love."I'm trying to play my way on that team," Stricker said. "I need to play some and play well."Ryder Cup points aside, Stricker posted a solid 1-under 69 in his first competitive round at the Old White TPC. His impressions of the course and the people were all positive."It was good," Stricker said. "I had a problem with the speed of the greens I think, they looked faster than they really are, they're not all that quick and I kind of struggled to get the ball to the hole. The course was in good shape. It's a fun place to play and it's nice to be here." An education for FerrellFairmont State's Jess Ferrell struggled Thursday, landing near the bottom of the scoring list with a 10-over-par 80, but he sure got a good look at a couple of solid rounds. Playing partners Martin Flores (64) and Richard H. Lee (67) put themselves near the top of the leader board.
Ferrell, who got an exemption to this year's Classic by finishing second in last year's West Virginia Amateur, had seven pars on his first nine holes but struggled through the back nine. His round included four double-bogeys."I was hitting the fairways, I just couldn't hit any of the greens," Ferrell said. "I think I hit four greens, so that's going to have to improve [today]."As for his front-row seat to some of the day's better golf, Ferrell said the experience was a good one."That was a lot of fun," Ferrell said. "It was good playing with them, they were great guys and it shows you how good they are. It was fun to play with them."It was great to watch what they do when they get in trouble. They get it out to somewhere where they can make par, but mainly they don't get into trouble." Flores said despite his troubles, Ferrell fit in just fine."He handled himself great," Flores said. "It's just a learning process. I don't know if that was his first PGA Tour tournament, but it's a process and he'll just keep working hard and he'll be fine."Tour Wives pitch inWhile Old White TPC showed no scars from last Friday's vicious storms thanks to countless hours of cleanup effort, The Greenbrier hasn't forgotten those less fortunate.The PGA Tour Wives Association and The Greenbrier partnered up to provide relief, including produce from Greenbrier farms, water at the resort and at the Lewisburg Emergency Center and the Lewisburg Lowe's.Those still without power could receive a bag of ice and two gallons of water for free."The Greenbrier is eager to continue our efforts to provide support and comfort where we can to those affected by Friday's storms," resort owner Jim Justice said. "Greenbrier County and Lewisburg were among the most heavily damaged areas in the region, with nearly 100 percent of residents and business owners losing power. The need for aid is greater than ever. As part of our ongoing effort, we are proud to welcome the PGA Tour Wives Association and we look forward to working together as we strive to support people in their time of need."By the numbersRobert McClellan, the PGA Tri-State Section's entry, had the longest drive of the day, a 387-yarder on No. 7. Alas, he still parred the hole.Sean O'Hair had his formula for shooting a 66 - he hit all 18 greens. Heath Slocum hit all 14 fairways, but only mustered an even-par 70.The par-5 12th and 17th accounted for 108 birdies and 19 bogeys. On the other end of the spectrum, the second and third holes combined for 81 bogeys and 21 birdies. The par-4 13th was the toughest hole, scoring .359 over par (43 bogeys, 11 birdies).The roughest hole of the day goes to Jamie Lovemark, who made a snowman "8" on the fifth. He flew the green twice, then chipped on and four-putted, missing from 7 feet, 6 feet and 9 inches. He followed the hole with a double bogey on the sixth and finished with a 79.
BrieflyDuring the Golf Channel's broadcast of the first round on Thursday afternoon, a promo for Big Break Greenbrier was broadcast, meaning White Sulphur Springs will be the site for the reality show's 18th season starting on Oct. 2. Competitors are faced with a series of challenges with the weakest performer being eliminated each show. The winner will receive an exemption into next year's Greenbrier Classic as well as other prizes. ... Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson quietly pieced together a very useful round, grinding his way to an even-par 70 as he played alongside Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley.