The Times West Virginian

Sports

July 4, 2014

Defending champ Blixt still on top a year later

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — It has been nearly 12 months since the conclusion of the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, but the top of the leaderboard still hasn't changed.

Defending champion Jonas Blixt took advantage of some favorable morning conditions to card a 6-under 64 Thursday and hold the opening-round lead at a place with which he's obviously becoming very comfortable.

Blixt started on the back nine and made his biggest move as he approached the turn with birdies on Nos. 16, 17 and 18. He followed that with his fourth straight back on No. 1 to move to 6-under, then kept it even the rest of the way — following a bogey on No. 5 with a birdie on No. 6 — to finish out the best round of the day. He stands one stroke in front of a group of seven golfers tied for second at 5-under.

"If you can go out there and play no wind, it definitely helps," said Blixt, who played on a soft course after a heavy rain Wednesday afternoon. "You can attack everything, and you don't really have to consider anything. But I feel like you never really know here.

"The golf course is in perfect shape, like last year. The greenskeeper should get a lot of credit for it. It's very scorable. The greens are not very hard. You can definitely attack the pins."

The Greenbrier's own Bubba Watson didn't quite

get those conditions, struggling with some swirling afternoon winds. But he salvaged a solid round with four birdies over the final nine holes to finish four shots off the lead with a 2-under 68.

"I thought my round was pretty good," said Watson, who's sleeping in the bed of his new Greenbrier home this week. "When you look at the conditions, I don't feel too bad about a couple under par. Hopefully (Friday) I'll have some better conditions and be able to move up the leaderboard a little more.

"You want to play good at your home course. I just need to make some birdies."

Among the group in second is rookie Patrick Rodgers, who only recently turned pro after winning the Haskins Award — college golf's Heisman trophy — which he officially received in a ceremony Tuesday night at The Greenbrier.

Rodgers' round included just one bogey. He had four birdies and an eagle on No. 1, his 10th hole of the day, when he chipped in from the fairway.

"I just felt like a managed it really well," said Rodgers, who is making his third start of the season this week. "It's just one of those weeks so far where I didn't feel like I had my A-game. But I really hung in there and kind of managed it and placed the ball where I needed to and was able to get on a good run there on the back 9."

Other members of the logjam for second place are James Hahn, Jason Bohn, Joe Durant, Chris Kirk, D.A. Points, Jim Renner and Danny Lee, who birdied the 18th to join the group.

Steve Stricker, making just his eighth start of the season, is among the big names within striking distance. He finished with a 4-under 66 Thursday and is in a tie for 10th.

"I made the turn 4-under and had a couple of opportunities on that second nine that I didn't convert," said Stricker, who has his wife, Nicki on his bag this week. "I had a nice putt at 6 and 7, 10-footers that I didn't make. So that's disappointing. To get one of them would have been nice."

Keegan Bradley (-3), John Daly (-2), Angel Cabrera (-2) and Bill Haas (-1) are also on the top half of the leaderboard, while golfing legend Tom Watson finished with a 1-over 71.

"The conditions are perfect for scoring," said Watson, The Greenbrier's pro emeritus. "It was a 64-year-old 71."

Tee times for today's second round begin at 7 a.m. The low 70 and ties after today's round will play the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday.

Email Cam Huffman at chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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