By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Birdwatchers will tell you that their pastime takes patience. Golfers such as Webb Simpson will agree, when it comes to their own birdies.
Simpson birdied the last two holes at the Old White TPC course in White Sulphur Springs late Saturday afternoon, again wresting the lead late in the third annual Greenbrier Classic.
“I just had to be patient there early,” Simpson said. “I couldn't get anything to drop on the first six holes. But, you know, this golf course will give you some birdies. If you kind of keep plodding and putting the ball in the fairway, you'll have plenty of wedge opportunities.”
“I wasn't greedy (about going after the birdies),” he added. “I would have taken two or three, but I got five so it's a great feeling to play another bogey-free round – and I'm in great position for tomorrow.”
He provided suspense on the 18th hole, when his first shot landed on the green 20 feet from the hole and he calmly sank the birdie putt.
With a 14-under 196, he leads a surprising Troy Kelly by two strokes going into today's final round. Simpson led by one stroke on Friday over four competitors just before play was suspended due to darkness. A handful of golfers finished their second rounds on Saturday morning before the third round began.
Simpson is two shots clear of Ken Duke, J.B. Holmes and Charlie Beijan.
He was chasing Kelly, ranked No. 464 in the world golf standings, for most of the afternoon after Kelly scorched the front nine and went into the clubhouse with a 12-under three-day total of 198.
The field is missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut on Friday. Each of Saturday's leaders had a different spin on their absence.
Holmes said it had “zero” effect on him. “The only time they're affecting me is when they're on top of the leaderboard and they're beating you,” he said. “I mean, they're great players and obviously they both just had an off week. It doesn't matter. Somebody's getting hot every week. It's not always those two.”
Duke said, “It's always special when those guys are in the field. (But) if you're comfortable with your game, you're going to play well. If you're not, you're not going to play well, it doesn't matter who you are. Obviously, some of those guys might have an effect on you, but if you're comfortable with your game, I think you can step right up there and do it.”
Simpson called Woods and Mickelson “two of the best players of all time.” He said about Woods, “When he's not in the field, it's a relief because he's such a great player. I certainly don't want him to miss cuts, but when he's not lurking around on Saturdays and Sundays, it makes it a little easier, I think, for other guys.”
Beljan, who fired a 62 on Friday and trailed by one, began Saturday with seven straight pars after a scary morning.
“I woke up this morning and my heart was racing,” he said in an evening press conference. “I called a bunch of my friends … I was freaking out. And then as soon as I got out here to the putting green and driving range, and once I got on that first tee, they just all went away.”
“And it was a joy to be able to play with Webb Simpson (and) Jonathan Byrd, two great guys, and they made it a little easier.”
On the 13th hole, he said, “I hit a bad shot in there and miraculously somehow got it up and down.” It saved par as Beljan, too, avoided bogeys all day.
“Those are the kind of things that you need to do to keep on going,” he said. “I knew pars weren't going to kill me.”
Simpson said he's not going to be obsessed by other golfers' scores today.
“I'll see who's around me,” he said, “but the way I look at it is, I've got to go shoot under par tomorrow, and if I don't, somebody's going to play pretty good. (You've) almost got to imagine that these other guys are all going to shoot 4-, 5-under and I've got to stay aggressive.”
He said he's got “a lot of experience, the last year, close to the lead. … It's really hard to get your first PGA Tour win but, you know, I can't really be thinking that because as soon as I do, I'll let up a little bit and guys will be storming past me.”
John O'Neal of Bluefield, Va., interviewed early Saturday afternoon at the 18th hole, said, “It looks like a real shootout at the end.”
“The Greenbrier just keeps making (the tournament) better and better,” he said. “There was the 59 shot the first year, on the last hole. There was the playoff, last year. This year, who knows?”
Tommy Gainey will be the first to tee off today, at 8 a.m. Simpson and Kelly are scheduled to begin their rounds at 1:50 p.m.
Coverage of today's final round is scheduled from 3-6 p.m on CBS television. The forecast is for another sunny day with a high around 90 and the chance of scattered storms.
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org