Wagner, Gainey share Greenbrier Classic lead
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - For half the field Thursday at the Greenbrier Classic, the object was to take advantage of scoring-friendly conditions, post a low number, return to the hotel and take a nap.
For Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey and Johnson Wagner, the nap was probably sweeter than most. They both shot an 8-under 62, taking a two-shot lead over Webb Simpson and Jin Park.
All four had morning tee times.
"I'm very happy that I got my round in without delays because I believe, as I've heard, there's more rain coming," Gainey said. "Probably going to take a nap. I've been up since 5:30, so I'm definitely getting some good food here shortly, kind of hang out with the family, see what they want to do."
Actually, the weather got a lot better after a noon-hour shower. The sun eventually made an appearance and stuck around to the end of the day. The wind even kicked up, making the afternoon players think about their shots a little longer.
Those players who went out in the morning session were a combined 16 under par. The afternoon groupings finished the day a combined 31 over.
As a result of the afternoon scores going higher, the number of players breaking par was 66, lower than one would have guessed at the noon hour.
The air was still in the morning, and players were allowed to lift, clean and replace balls in the fairway all day. A wet week, compounded with persistent rain overnight, led to that decision by the PGA Tour.
"I'll just start out by saying the golf course is really soaked," Gainey said. "It's really soft, and with the players that we have out here, when you have soft greens and the rough is not too penal, I mean, you can score really low out there."
Simpson, who led after 54 holes in last year's Classic, shot 3 under on both nines, as did Park. Park is a Korean who struggled on the PGA Tour in 2008, fell to the Web.com Tour for the next three years and qualified for the big tour again last fall.
The field starts to pile up at 65 - Daniel Summerhays, Neal Lancaster, Tag Ridings and Steven Bowditch. With the exception of Summerhays, those players have had trouble hanging onto their Tour card in recent years.
The 50-year-old Lancaster owns a rain-shortened Tour victory, way back in 1994. He was helped by a 53-foot birdie putt on the difficult 13th, two holes after he made a 33-foot chip for birdie.
"What was crazy is when I missed the green or missed the fairway is when I made a birdie," he said. "When I played the hole solid, I couldn't make a birdie."
A horde of 12 players sits at 66, including Brendon de Jonge, a college teammate of Wagner's at nearby Virginia Tech. Peter Hanson, the Swede ranked 25th in the world, also finished 4 under.
Eleven players are at 67, led by Louis Oosthuizen, Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth and Davis Love III. Seventeen players shot a 68, including Bubba Watson, Kenny Perry, Monday qualifier Brad Adamonis, Ryan Palmer and Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson.
The 63-year-old Watson scored birdies on the tough par-3 eighth and 15th, rolling in a 20-foot putt on the latter.
"I had some very good opportunities that I missed today with the putter close, and I turned a 66 into a 68," he said. "Maybe overnight, the fried chicken I'm going to have tonight on the Fourth of July, as I always do, may help my putting stroke, you never know."
Bubba Watson headlined an all-left-handed trio that included fellow fan favorite Phil Mickelson and 2012 Greenbrier champion Ted Potter Jr. Watson kept a steady hand, for the most part, but Mickelson collapsed with a triple bogey on the 17th and a bogey on the 18th.
Also at 68 was Palmer, who has the highest-profile caddie this week in New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. As a bonus, they are playing with Tom Watson the first two rounds.
"I'll tell you what, I heard one 'Palmer' out there today," Palmer said. "There was a lot of 'Go Saints,' a lot of 'Who dat?' but it was pretty cool."
The questions today: Will Mickelson go home early, again? Will Thursday's afternoon players get their share of the lowest scores today?
And will Old White firm up if the rain stays away for good?
"No, it's soft all the way through. Even the last hole's still soft," Bubba Watson said. "You know, if it stays like this [sunny], obviously it's going to get a little bit tougher because it's not going to be so soft.
"But the fairways are so soft right now, fairways are going to be soft all week. The greens might get a little bit tougher, but not much."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.