By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
It was lefty vs. righty for the Greenbrier Classic title.
Lefty finished on top.
Ted Potter Jr. molded an eagle and two birdies over the final four holes, and then made a birdie on the third playoff hole to win the Greenbrier Classic over Troy Kelly on a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon with temperatures reaching 97 at the Old White TPC.
“It is an amazing feeling right now,” Potter said.
It was the second straight playoff needed to determine a champion in the third year of the event. It was Potter’s first PGA Tour win, matching the success of defending champion Scott Stallings, who defeated Bob Estes and Bill Haas for his first victory in 2011.
U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson was the only player on the leaderboard for much of the day who had ever won on Tour. He entered the round with a two-stroke lead on Kelly, and still led through 11 holes.
That is when it fell apart, with Simpson bogeying three of the next four holes to fall into a tie for 7th place.
“I think it’s just the nature of the game. I think it’s a funny game,” said Simpson, who had made one bogey in 63 holes before the three-putt bogey on 12. “You go from not making any mistakes all week to making them all on the back 9.”
While Simpson faded, Kelly didn’t, making five birdies and a bogey for a 4-under 66, including pars on the final four holes to force the playoff with Potter, who had made up four strokes on the final four holes to pull into a tie.
“Today was a great day. Webb’s a great guy,” said Kelly, who entered the week as the 464th ranked player in the world. Simpson, who played with Kelly, was ranked 5th.
“It was a nice pairing to play with him today. I just hit it well. I made some putts early, and I made some putts at the end to save a couple of pars, and I played tough all day.
“It was not an easy day. It is hot out there, but I had a lot of fun. It was good for me. It’s something for me to build off of into next week.”
Potter, who shot a second straight 64, rebounded from a bogey on 11 to sink 49-foot putt on 15 for birdie, a 28-footer on 17 for eagle, and finished his round with a birdie on 18.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen coming down the stretch there, bogey on No. 11 and not birdieing 12, the short par 5,” said Potter, who is a natural right-handed, but plays golf from the other side.
“Just seeing that I was a few back there, and then making the bomb on 15 there, that turned my hopes around there making that putt there for birdie.
“Then some magic came in on 17 and 18 to get me to where I am, so I’m just happy to be here.”
Stallings won the playoff last year on the first extra hole, but it took three to decide the cause between Kelly and Potter, who finished the four rounds with a 16-under score of 264.
“It’s nice to play in that situation with a great player (Simpson) and have a little success,” Kelly said. “Obviously he kind of stumbled a little bit at the end, but he’s had his turn and he’ll have a lot more.
“It’s just something to build off of. I haven’t been close to playing well this year. I have made seven cuts, whatever, but I’ve never really been in contention ever.”
Both players made par on the par-3 18th hole to begin the playoff. Kelly made a short putt to secure par on 17 after hitting his approach shot into the sand, and the round continued when Potter missed a shot putt for birdie.
“I was just trying to hit the left edge there. I was just trying to stay calm and go through my routine on the putting … like I was doing going down the stretch,” Potter said. “Just got outside the hole and hit it just a touch harder than I wanted to, but I guess that was part of the nerves.”
The duo returned to the 18th hole, and while Kelly’s drive came up well short of the hole, Potter was able to secure a three-foot birdie putt. After Kelly missed his attempt, Potter canned his to secure his first win.
“It was just a relief at the time,” said Potter, of his immediate reaction after the putt dropped. “Just finally to win. I know it is my first year out here and just to win period. I mean, that was just a big relief.
“I have struggled the last few weeks, but knowing that now I have got a couple of years to improve on my game and win some more tournaments.”
All Kelly could do was shake his hand and settle for second place. He did, however, maintain his composure under the pressure of what was at stake on a hot day with thousands of spectators followed his every move.
“I just tried to stay in the moment, and just tried to think about just the cliché, one shot at a time and don’t get too far ahead of myself,” Kelly said.
Potter earned $1,098,000 million for his efforts, while Kelly made more than $650,000 Both will be playing at the British Open later this month.
“I just found out I’m in the British Open, which is kind of exciting so I guess I am going to have to make some plans for that,” said Kelly, whose caddy is his brother. “I don’t think my brother has got his passport so we are going to have to work on that.
“But overall a great day, had a lot of fun and looking forward to kind of getting in that position some more.”
Charlie Wi made a late rush with an eagle and two birdies on the final nine holes to finish in a third place tie with Charlie Beljan at -14 under 266. Daniel Summerhays finished fifth with a final round 64 at 267, with Martin Flores was sixth with a 268.
John Daly shot a final round 65 to finish in a tie for 12th. First round leader Vijay Singh finished in a tie for 33rd. Simpson, who led after the second and third rounds, was tied for seventh.
— Contact Brian Woodson