DUBLIN, Ohio — The No. 1 issue at the Greenbrier Classic is who will play, be it Jimmy Buffett, Tiger Woods or whoever.
There is no such worry here at the Memorial Tournament, where 15 of the world’s top 25 players have shown up. Of the so-called “regular” PGA Tour stops, this packs the strongest field.
When players gather at the Old White Course in roughly a month, the 156-man field could feature just two of the top 25 players in the official world rankings. (This assumes that Tiger Woods, who will no doubt be hungry after falling out of the No. 1 position, is not yet healthy.)
No. 5 Bubba Watson, the third-round leader at the Memorial, is a gimme bet. He is building/has built a house on the Greenbrier Sporting Club properties, and has joined the resort’s professional staff.
Jimmy Walker, who has played all four Classics and has rocketed to 17th in the world, is very likely.
The challenge for resort owner Jim Justice and tournament director Monte Ortel will be to woo another of the very top players. No. 12 Jim Furyk has played in White Sulphur Springs, as has No. 14 Dustin Johnson, No. 19 Steve Stricker and No. 23 Keegan Bradley.
Stricker and No. 11 Phil Mickelson are considered very doubtful, as both have pared back their schedules.
In the case of Jordan Spieth, the Classic suffered a tough break last summer. The week after Spieth finished 23rd at Old White, he won his first Tour event, the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities, at age 19.
So here’s his situation: The John Deere comes the week before the British Open, and Spieth will be more or less obligated to play there. If he does the Greenbrier before those, he will be playing three weeks in a row across six time zones.
Most of the best players won’t do that, but Spieth just might. He has played 25 events plus the President’s Cup since the 2013 Greenbrier, so he isn’t afraid to mix it up.
He also wants to pay back those who gave him a sponsor’s exemption, allowing him to avoid the “Q School” route to full Tour privileges.
“I also wanted to come back to the tournaments that have given me exemptions in the past, whether it was last year or even back when I was an amateur,” Spieth said. “So that’s important to me because they allowed me to really be here today.”
Technically, he didn’t receive a sponsor’s exemption into the Greenbrier Classic. He was going to, but ultimately qualified by finishing in the top 10 in the previous tournament, the AT&T Classic in suburban Washington.
A pessimistic guess, from the Greenbrier perspective, is that Spieth takes a week off after the U.S. Open, hits the Quicken Loans (formerly AT&T) tourney, takes the Greenbrier week off and defends his John Deere championship before heading across the Atlantic.
But who knows? He is playing his fourth in a row this week at the Memorial Tournament, and played six of seven earlier this year. He hasn’t exactly adopted the Mickelson/Stricker plan.
“I guess it goes back to where I get the most rest, slash, get the rust off prior to playing in the biggest events,” Spieth said. “I’ve got a variety of scheduling going into the [U.S.] Open. [My plans are] not all a week off before.
“The Masters was the third out of a four-week stretch, and the Open, obviously, I’ll have a week off prior to it.”
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Watson was caught in a mini-controversy on the 18th hole, which he bogeyed to fall to 12-under and a one-stroke lead. Apparently, the CBS monitor showed the possibility that Watson touched the ball on his address on a green-side chip from the rough.
That issue was quickly addressed, with Watson cleared of any offense that draws a one-stroke penalty.
“When we got to the scoring [room], they were looking at it,” Watson said. “When I walked in, four of us [players and caddies] walked in, and we were like, ‘Are you serious?’
“[Rules officials] were talking about it over the radio when I got in there. So it was squashed within five seconds as we got in there.”
In the previous round, there was a related tale on the rules, and the honor code among competitors.
Justin Rose, the 2010 Memorial winner and defending U.S. Open champ, rolled into the scoring room Friday with an apparent even-par score, which would have made the 36-hole cut on the number. But he called a foul on himself for double-hitting a chip shot out of the rough on No. 12.
In other words, he sent himself home, missing his last two competitive rounds before the U.S. Open.
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Mickelson won’t be at Old White later this month, we’re pretty certain, but he may be wishing to take refuge in a Greenbrier cottage about now. On Thursday, he was visited by FBI officials probing allegations of illegal insider trading also involving investor Carl Icahn and Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters.
After his round of 72 Saturday, Mickelson was hit with a barrage of questions. He answered seven of them as patiently as possible, basically saying he can’t say anything about the case. At that point, the moderator said, “We’ve got to move on.”
A reporter went on, “I’m sorry, but we’ve got to keep going. When was the first time the FBI approached you about this investigation?”
Mickelson fielded two questions after that, with the moderator trying to move the discussion to golf. “I’m not going to talk much more about it,” Lefty said. “But I’ve been cooperating in every way I can.”
The reporter retorted: “Except for in this case.”
Mickelson shot back: “Well, not with you, but with …”
That brought laughter. Mickelson hasn’t lost his sense of humor just yet.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.