The Greenbrier Classic: Making the Best of Moving Day

Johnson Wagner and Jimmy Walker made the best of moving day at the Greenbrier Classic by each shooting 6-under 64. Wagner has a 2-stroke lead over Walker and they’ll be going eyeball-to-eyeball on Sunday for the trophy.

They have the best chance, but Swede Jonas Blixt who won impressively last year at the Open with fearless putting is a threat to be reckoned with. He is just two shots back of Walker at 10-under and, with the tournament turning into a putting contest, well positioned if his putter sizzles like it did at CordeValle.

There are three at 9-under: Aussie Matt Jones, a twelve-year pro out of Arizona State, Jordan Spieth, a one-year pro out of Texas who is a non-Tour member playing on a special exemption, and Steven Bowditch, another twelve-year pro from Australia who Ian Baker Finch said was the amateur everybody had their eye on in his formative years. So, a tight pack of very good, players hungry for a win. 

Then you have six players at 8-under including the mercurial Pat Perez, Rory Sabbatini and Bill Haas, each very capable of going low if the stars align for them. At six strokes back and the leaders playing well, that’s about the limit in terms of who might actually win this thing.

For his part, Johnson Wagner is on a roll ever since he took a timeout after Hartford to spend four remedial days with his coach:

I had a great day, drove the ball really nicely, felt really comfortable all day. Was nervous early, but I settled down with a couple birdies early and hit a lot of good golf shots today.

I’m taking a lot of confidence out of some of the shots I hit, especially on the back nine knowing I had the lead. The shot I hit into 15 may have been the best shot I’ve ever hit, and then coming into 18 cut in a little 8-iron into the wind, just shots I didn’t have two weeks ago that give me a lot of confidence.

He also had some cogent things to say about confidence; how quickly it goes and how quickly it can return:

I think realizing that I’m a three-time TOUR winner and realizing that I can play really good golf, sometimes when you’re playing bad, you kind of forget who you are and you get down on yourself.

The last couple weeks I’ve just been trying to be positive and remember that I’ve won three times out here. It was my goal when I was a kid just to play out here, now I’m a three-time winner and I have nothing to lose. I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted to in the game of golf other than maybe a major and the Ryder Cup, but I’m a little more comfortable with myself right now.

And ultimately, being comfortable with yourself is the key ingredient in confidence. Can you play abysmally and not flinch? Not worry about what others are thinking? Not confuse your golf with your “self?”

Can you play fantastic golf and be so centered that you never have thoughts about how you’re going to screw it up? Not worry about what others are thinking? Not confuse your golf with your self?

Jimmy Walker is comfortable enough with himself that he is patiently waiting on himself to do what he knows he can do:

I’m ready, so it’s going to happen when it happens. I can’t make it happen. I just go out and do what I’ve got to do, play golf and whatever happens happens. That’s how I’m looking at it. I just keep putting myself in position. If I keep doing that, it’s going to happen. Hopefully it will happen some more after that.

Which is not to say that it’s easy:

It can kind of start to wear on you a little bit, but you’ve got to try to take the positive out of it. You’re there, you’re knocking, you’re close. I want to be here. This is where I like to be, in here talking to you guys about this stuff. That means good things are happening.

The most salient fact about Jordan Spieth is that he’s only 19 years old (20 at the end of this month). And because he’s playing on a special exemption, he has to win the tournament to get into the FedExCup playoffs that begin in just seven weeks with The Barclays at Liberty National in New Jersey. Here are the remaining regular season tournaments:

  1. John Deere Classic
  2. British Open
  3. RBC Canadian Open
  4. WGC- Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone
  5. PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, NY
  6. Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC

And Jordan Spieth is ready:

You know, I feel like Sunday’s going to be easier. I felt a lot better out there today, really felt calm the entire day, even towards the end making a few birdies, getting myself back into it, didn’t feel any kind of nerves.

I think tomorrow I should be in the last three groups I think [the second to last with Bowditch] and I’ll have a good idea of what’s going on around me and I think I’ll handle it a little better. If I don’t win, it doesn’t really do much for me because I have to win to be in the playoffs. I’m just going out there free swinging and that’s a great place to be, I think.

And as a measure of his maturity and having his head screwed on right, he has no interest in winning for the sake of doing it while he’s still a teenager:

I’m not trying to win by a certain age as much as it is just trying to win so I can play with these guys some more this year. I’d really like to play in the FedExCup Playoffs, so the only way to do that is to win and I’m happy to be in contention again.

Johnson’s obviously making a lot of putts and playing extremely well, so it’s not like I’m tied for the lead or in the lead. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow, but it’s nice to have a chance to do it.

And who would bet against him? He’s demonstrated that he’s more than ready having made $1.2 million this year in just 14 tournaments. That locks up his card for next year, but he wants to keep playing with “these guys” this year. You gotta love his tenacity.

One last note: On Friday, Nick Watney had to make a clutch 23-footer for birdie on 18 to make the cut on the number. Saturday, he shot the third of the day’s three, 6-under 64s and leaped up 44 places to T16. And that’s why Jordan Spieth wants to keep playing with guys like him.

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