WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Brendon de Jonge has proven quite resilient this week.
He held a share of the lead starting the third round but had a horrible opening nine Saturday at The Old White TPC. After rolling in a 12-footer for birdie on the second hole, de Jonge bogeyed No. 3, doubled the fifth and dropped two more shots before turning in 38.
The big man from Zimbabwe did manage to right the ship on the back nine, though, with a couple of birdies to finish 54 holes at 5 under for the tournament. He was five strokes behind Anthony Kim, as a result.
"I couldn't get the wind right," said de Jonge, who finished third at The Greenbrier last year. "I hit a couple of bad shots in the wrong time and got a couple bad breaks.
"I did (hang in there). It's nice. It gives me a bit of an outside shot on (Sunday)."
Indeed it has. Granted, De Jonge, who went to school at Virginia Tech and has plenty of crowd support, bogeyed the first hole. But he's made four birdies since, including three straight to end the front nine, and currently is tied for second at 8 under, two behind Kim.
"I'll have to get off to a really good start to make a run at it," de Jonge had said on Saturday evening. Mission accomplished.
At the start of the day, Brendon de Jonge had a share of the lead. Now? He’s just trying to salvage what’s been a disaster of a round with four bogeys, one double bogey and one birdie through his first nine holes Saturday.
De Jonge made the turn and has fallen all the way into a tie for 24th seven shots back. A few others have tumbled down the leaderboard, too -- Brian Davis, Derek Lamely and Michael Letzig have all dropped 20 spots as well.
Meanwhile, no one has been able to catch Anthony Kim -- though Scott Stallings is now within two after playing his first dozen holes in 3 under.
With overnight co-leaders Brendon de Jonge and Webb Simpson set to tee off in about 30 minutes from now, here’s a look at how they got to the top of the leaderboard and what’s at stake for both:
Since 2010, no one has made as many birdies on TOUR as de Jonge. One reason he’s made so many this week: He’s hit 30 of 36 greens in regulation so far, which ties for second in the field.
De Jonge is coming off back-to-back top-15 finishes in his last two starts and has moved from 64th to 51st in the FedExCup standings in that time span. This week de Jonge could move inside the top 30 to as high as 20th should he go onto win.
Simpson, meanwhile, leads the TOUR this year in rounds in the 60s with just over half -- 38 of 67 -- in the 60s. To put that in perspective, the average on TOUR is 11 per player.
Of course Simpson has been anything but average. He ranks 10th in total driving, 12th in ball-striking and 14th in scrambling. This week, it’s the putter that’s made the difference for Simpson. He led the field in strokes gained-putting in the opening round and converted a total of 126 feet of putts (fourth-most in the opening round).
Simpson didn’t have that same success in Round 2 -- he made just three putts from over 5 feet -- but he’ll tee off today in position to pursue that elusive first win. At ninth in the FedExCup standings, Simpson is the second-highest ranked player in the FEC without a victory this season (behind Matt Kuchar). However, no player has more top-25 finishes on TOUR season than Simpson. In his 17 starts, he’s accumulated 13 total top-25 finishes. (most on TOUR). Simpson could move as high as second in the FedExCup should he go onto win this week.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Trevor Immelman was headed straight to the putting green after he finished off a round of 70 Friday that left him one shot off the lead held by Brendon de Jonge and Webb Simpson.
The South African had played solidly tee to green, but the flat stick simply wasn't as cooperative as it was during the first round when it produced seven birdies. He needed 31 putts Friday and several short misses early -- two which were for birdie and another came in a three-putt bogey at the fifth -- set the wrong tone for the overnight leader.
"(I) had a funny switch there and kind of took some momentum away from me with the putter there," Immelman said. He thought he found something in his grip, though, that could turn things around on Saturday.
"I think my tendency is to get my grip a little too far down in the fingers on the left hand and then the putter blade doesn't swing back and come through really," he explained. "So I was really just trying to get my grip comfortable and a nice roll between the finish.”
The 2008 Masters champion said the breezes that swirled through the tree-lined course nestled in the scenic mountains of West Virginia made club selection difficult, as well. " The biggest swirling breeze I've ever played on a golf course, even more than Augusta," Immelman said. "The wind really moves around a lot here. That's probably why you see some players coming up 30 feet long, 30 feet short."
Immelman didn't let frustration set in during the second round,
though. After a bogey at the eighth hole dropped him two shots off
the lead, he reeled off eight straight pars before making a
4-footer at No. 17 to get back to even par.
"It was great," Immelman said. "I was grinding it out and made a good up and down there on 17. Like I said, anything that's par or under around here in the afternoon is really good with the way the wind.
"I'm looking forward to (the weekend). Probably the closest I've been to the lead in a little while. It's exciting for me. It's going to be great to have an opportunity."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- It was hard to tell what made Webb Simpson happier on Friday afternoon.
Was it the fact that he was tied for the lead at The Greenbrier Classic or the fact that he played well enough his wife Dowd would likely make the drive up I-77 from Charlotte, N.C., with their baby James to watch him play the last two rounds?
"I told my wife that I'm going to go out and be in the lead so you've got to come for the weekend," a grinning Simpson told reporters just minutes after jokingly asking a Golf Channel reporter if he could say hello to his family on the air.
Mission, as they say, accomplished. And make no mistake, this weekend could be a life-changer for Simpson, who could rise as high as second in the FedExCup with his first PGA TOUR victory.
He will play in the final group on Saturday with Brendon de Jonge, also seeking his breakthrough win. The two are tied at 7 under, one stroke ahead of Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champ on the comeback trail after wrist surgery.
Simpson made his move Friday on the back nine. He hit a wedge from 85 yards to 6 feet for birdie at the 10th hole, then answered a bogey at the 11th by getting up-and-down from behind the green at the par-5 12th. He added a 12-footer for birdie at the 14th hole and finished it off the 68 with a 7-footer on No. 18 that he called "icing on the cake."
"Starting out I didn't hit very many good shots," Simpson said. "But I tried to keep the ball in front of me and started dialing it in more on the back."
Depending on what happens this weekend, Simpson could play his way into his first World Golf Championships. He currently stands 53rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and anyone who stands inside the top 50 on Monday gets to play in next week's Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Not to mention, the young man who ranks 15th in the U.S. Presidents Cup roster could threaten the automatic top 10, as well.
Even with everything at stake, though, the low-key Simpson is working hard to keep things in perspective.
"It's all a good feeling knowing I have a chance to win going into the weekend," Simpson said. "But it was just another couple of solid rounds. And this afternoon was trickier with the wind. But I was able to get a couple of coming in, which is always nice."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- When he was growing up in Zimbabwe, Brendon de Jonge played in some junior golf tournaments against Trevor Immelman, who hails from South Africa.
Asked Friday who was the better player back in those days, de Jonge didn't hesitate. "He was," the 31-year-old said. "Very much so."
Interestingly, Immelman, who won the 2008 Masters, held the first round lead at The Greenbrier Classic after a 64. But de Jonge seized sole possession of the top spot on Friday morning after a 67 that left him 7 under and ended the afternoon tied with Webb Simpson.
Meanwhile, Immelman ended up shooting an even-par 70 and stands in solo third, one stroke behind the leaders.
To see de Jonge leading the Greenbrier Classic is hardly a surprise, though. He finished a career-best solo third a year ago, and the 2003 Virginia Tech graduate has always felt comfortable on the recently-restored and revitalized C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor creation. He draws an extra dose of adrenaline from the Hokie Nation fans in his gallery, too.
"I love the changes," de Jonge said. "The changes obviously made the golf course a lot more difficult, but I think they're great. It's a comfortable place for me. A lot of Virginia Tech support, which it's nice. ... It's always a little pick me up if you're struggling a little bit. It's fun. It's nice to hear, 'Go Hokies' on every tee.
"Any time you play sport there, it's a pretty close-knit community, so it's good fun."
Speaking of close-knit. carrying de Jonge's bag this week is his friend Chris McDonald, whom his boss calls a "very, very good player" from Zimbabwe. McDonald, who played at the College of Charleston, was pressed into service when de Jonge's regular looper, Phil Lowe, opted to take a few weeks off back home in England.
"We see a lot of the same things out there, which helps," de Jonge said. "It's nice to have that a little bit of reassurance."
Golf was a family affair for de Jonge back home in Zimbabwe. His father, who is retired from the banking business, once was a 2 handicap while de Jonges's brother played to scratch.
"I played a lot of other sports growing up," said de Jonge, who was recruited by the Hokies while playing junior golf in South Florida. "I actually had to make a choice between cricket and golf when I was 16 or 17."
Judging by his results, de Jonge made the right decision. He was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year in 2008 and has been a member of the PGA TOUR the last three years. He came close to picking up his first win earlier this season at the Transitions Championship where he went into the final round trailing by one, played in the final group and ended up tying for fifth.
De Jonge came to West Virginia with momentum, too, on the heels of a tie for seventh at the John Deere Classic and a tie for 13th at the Viking Classic. A year ago, although the tournaments were different, he had identical finishes in his two starts prior to The Greenbrier Classic.
"The last couple years I've had a couple stretches where I've played well for an extended period of time," de Jonge acknowledged. "I'm playing nicely coming in this week, so, yeah, hopefully keep it going."
And what would it take to get over the hump this weekend and finally pocket that first PGA TOUR title?
"I think the biggest thing is just getting out of my own way," de Jonge said. "It's very, very difficult to win out here; it's difficult to win anywhere.
"So just sort of staying in what you do, keep going at the same speed you had been the first three rounds if it's the final round. Staying in your own routine I guess is the best way to put it."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- His bogey-free streak on The Old White TPC ended on his 87th hole in competition.
Not to worry, though. Charles Howell III still finds himself in the hunt at The Greenbrier Classic for the second straight year.
Howell, who has made seven birdies and three bogeys this week, shot his second straight 68 on Friday to move to 4 under. He was three strokes off the lead held by Brendon de Jonge when he finished.
"The changes to course have toughened it up for sure," said Howell, who had 12 birdies and an eagle last year on the way to finishing in a tie for ninth.
"If nothing else, just the firmness in the greens has made it tougher. I don't know if you'll see a 59 this year, although it was exciting to have last year sort of a guy shoot really low. But definitely toughened it up this year."
The Old White TPC has undergone a restoration that included reseeding all 18 greens since Stuart Appleby fired a final-round 59 to win last year. Howell, who is looking to break a four-year victory drought, says the biggest adjustment is knowing when to play conservatively.
"(We) find ourselves playing away from a some of the pins; where before when it was more of a dartboard we played a bit more aggressive to 'em," Howell explained. "But the greens are so young so they're still quite firm. So there are a lot of hole locations out there that need to be getting a little bit of respect.
"The greens are rolling perfect. I don't think anybody putted on 'em for a while, so they're rolling good. You just have to be aware of the some of the corner flags and that the ball is going to bounce through the green a bit. And with the added length we're not quite hitting as many wedge into the holes as we were. So it takes a bit more patience out there, I think."
The steady Howell must be doing something right. He hit 11 of 14 fairways for the second straight day, as well as 12 of 18 greens in regulation. His 28 putts were three less than he used in the first round.
The lanky Georgian, who ranks 24th in the FedExCup, is looking to end a four-year victory drought. Howell came to West Virginia primed, though, with three top-five finishes in his last four starts.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Trevor Immelman doesn’t tee off until 12:30 p.m. ET but there’s already been a change at the top of the leaderboard.
Brendon de Jonge, who went to school at nearby Virginia Tech, has just birdied the fourth and fifth holes to move to 7 under. The big man from Zimbabwe made a a 10-footer at No. 4 and a 4-footer at the next to take sole possession of the lead.
The former Hokies standout started on the back nine and recovered from an early bogey with consecutive birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to turn 1 under for the day. He finished third in last year’s Greenbrier Classic.
Meanwhile, Gary Woodland has moved into a tie with Immelman at 6 under. The big-hitting Woodland bogeyed No. 10, which was his first hole, but two-putted the par-5 17th for birdie and added another birdie at the first hole.
We’re well into the afternoon wave at The Old White TPC, and no one has been able to catch Trevor Immelman, who leads after a 6-under 64.
Brendon de Jonge has a chance to at 4 under through 12 holes, but he’s been stuck on that number for about an hour.
Meanwhile, Kenny Perry, Gary Woodland, Ryuji Imada and Kyle Stanley are all sitting another stroke back at 3 under.
Speaking of Woodland and Stanley, they, along with J.B. Holmes and Steven Bowditch, are among the four players in the field this week with the best driving distance average.
Coincidence that three of those four are near the top of the leaderboard? Probably not, especially since 200 yards was added to the course for this year’s tournament. And the only one of that group who didn’t play well Thursday was Holmes, who shot 76.
Trevor Immelman’s 6-under 64 was good for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that The Old White TPC has undergone some changes to play more difficult this year. Whether it stands up in the afternoon, we’re about to find out.
Gary Woodland and Brendon de Jonge are both already 4 under through seven and nine holes, respectively.
In Woodland we also may have the shot of the day with the rookie having holed out for eagle from 102 yards on the par-4 fourth. He also sandwiched a couple of birdies around that on Nos. 1 and 7.
DeJonge, on the other hand, has reached 4 under the old fashioned way -- with four birdies (Nos. 1, 3, 7 and 8). Only one of those birdies, however, has come from inside 10 feet.