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Johnson Wagner has struggled this season on the PGA Tour, but he shaved his mustache and shot 62 on Thursday.
Johnson Wagner watches his tee shot on the 18th hole in Thursday’s first round of the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Bubba Watson watches his tee shot on the 12th hole in the first round of the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Tommy Gainey throws his ball in the air as he waits to play on the 12th fairway during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic PGA tour golf tournament at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Thursday, July 4, 2013. Gainey finished with an 8-under-62. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Friday, July 5, 2013
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Johnson Wagner gave his wife, Katie, a cheap present for the couple’s seventh wedding anniversary Monday.
Talk about the last of the big-time spenders — the PGA Tour pro shaved off his 18-month-old mustache.
“I didn’t get her a gift, so I thought surprising her with a clean lip would suffice,” a laughing Wagner said.
Yuck it up, Daddy Wags. It’s about time you had some fun out here.
Locked in the throes of a dismal slump the past two and a half months, Wagner was elated to be in the The Old White TPC media room Thursday after posting a career-low 8-under-par 62 to share the first-round lead in the Greenbrier Classic.
“I’ve struggled with my ball striking all year, even my good finishes … my ball striking has been terrible,” the former Virginia Tech standout said.
A couple of tips from his old coach, Bob Hines of Old Oaks Country Club in Westchester, N.Y., worked wonders after Wagner missed the cut at the Travelers in Hartford, Conn., two weeks ago.
“It’s all set up for me with driving the golf ball,” Wagner said. “I’ve been driving it short and crooked this year. My fairway percentage is way down, my driving distance is way down, and I’ve never been that long anyway to be good enough to miss fairways and coming into these greens with 5-irons.
“It’s amazing, I think I gained 15 yards with driver and I’m hitting it straighter. It’s nice to feel like I know what I’m doing again.”
Wagner, a three-time winner, hasn’t been able to beat anyone lately. He shot 76-76 at the AT&T National last week and 75-79 at the Travelers. The previous event, he shot 79 and withdrew from the Memorial Tournament.
“I had three holes to go on Friday [at the Memorial], was shooting a million,” Wagner explained. “I thought we were going to come back the next morning and I needed some rest. I felt bad to withdraw from Mr. [Jack] Nicklaus’ tournament, but I just didn’t want to come back and sit out a 17-hour rain delay.”
Wagner admitted he’s been a mental wreck in a bad season that turned really ugly after he cashed his last paycheck Apr. 21 at the Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “I love my job. I love playing the PGA Tour. I love playing golf when I’m at home [in Charlotte, N.C.], but the last couple of months, I mean, have been really hard. I just haven’t been much fun to be around. Nobody likes to be bad at what they do, especially golfers.”
It all turned Thursday for Wagner. He hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation. He rattled off birdies at hole Nos. 3-5, then added two more at Nos. 7 and 9 to turn in 5-under 29. When he birdied 11 and chipped in for eagle at 12, he confessed he starting thinking “59.”
So what. He’ll take 62 and run.
Webb Simpson, who has been in contention to win here the past two years before final-round fade jobs, and Jin Park are tied for third, two shots back.
The Old White, already one of the easiest courses on tour, was rendered helpless by water-logged conditions that have turned the 7,287-yard track into the world’s largest spongecake. Playing lift, clean and place in the fairways, the field feasted as 66 players broke par.
One who didn’t finish in the red was the field’s biggest drawing card, Phil Mickelson. In his first appearance since losing the U.S. Open to Justin Rose three weeks ago, Mickelson butchered the par-5 17th, making a triple bogey, then bogeyed the final hole for a 74. The left-hander beat only 12 players in the 156-player field.
“I felt like I was playing really well heading in here and I don’t play this course well,” said Mickelson, who has yet to break 70 on a layout the majority of his competition abuses.
“Greens were soft; the course is there to be taken. I just don’t score well here, I don’t know why. There’s a low round out there, I just have to go shoot it.”
If the cut had been Thursday, the number would have been even par. Eighty-six players are at 70 or better, meaning Mickelson will likely have to shoot in the low 60s to avoid a third straight missed cut in “Almost Heaven.”
Gainey, whose nickname is “Two Gloves” because he wears gloves on each hand, came to the West Virginia mountains trying to fix his game. He has missed the cut nine times in his past 10 events.
“I’ve played horrible all year,” said Gainey, 37, who won his first PGA event last year. “Ever since I won that tournament, the McGladrey Classic, I felt like I put more pressure on myself to play more consistently and do better. When you put that excess pressure on yourself, it hurts when you’re not playing up to potential.
“I put a new Callaway driver in the bag … and it was great, I missed one fairway. If I hit fairways, I can score, I can really play this game.”
The former factory worker hit 13 of 14 fairways in a bogey-free round that was spiced by eight birdies, including four straight from holes Nos. 8-11.
“There’s still three days left, but I tell you what, I like my chances starting off,” Gainey said. “I feel good about my game and half this game is confidence.”
What will it take this time? Who knows, inaugural winner Stuart Appleby’s 22-under winning score of 258 could fall.
“I believe you can get to at least 20 [under] this week, maybe a little more,” Gainey said. “I think it also depends on the weather. It depends on how much more rain we get and how much softer the course gets. I still feel that you can go at it.”
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