Wagner aims to complete turnaround week with title

Interview: Johnson Wagner

Following a third-round 64, Johnson Wagner reflects on his play in The Greenbrier Classic  with Doug Bell from PGA TOUR Radio.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- The more times you can't break par, the more times you miss the cut as a result, the more difficult it is to stay positive while playing this exasperating game of golf.

Just ask Johnson Wagner. He knows.

Until this week at The Greenbrier Classic, the affable 33-year-old hadn't played the weekend in his last seven events. Shoot, he'd only made three birdies in the last four rounds he'd played on the PGA TOUR -- completing those 72 holes in a whopping 24-over, to boot.

So just as he went to his coach to readjust his swing two weeks ago, Wagner needed to work on the mental part of his game. He needed to believe in himself again which isn't always easy when the results aren't there.

"Sometimes when you're playing bad, you kind of forget who you are and you get down on yourself," Wagner explained. "The last couple weeks I've just been trying to be positive. ... 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."

And on Sunday at The Old White TPC Wagner has everything to gain.

Thanks to Saturday's solid 64, he'll start the final round of The Greenbrier Classic leading by two shots over Jimmy Walker and up by four over Jonas Blixt. The other two times Wagner owned a third-round lead he converted, although this tournament's 54-hole leader hasn't been as lucky in the three-year history of the event.

So has Wagner ever had his confidence return quite so quickly?

"Probably not," he said candidly, then he smiled with satisfaction.

Wagner, who had only broken 70 once in the last 17 rounds he'd played, has been solid in every aspect of his game since opening with a 62 this week. He's tied for 21st in fairways hit, sixth in greens in regulation and 10th in putting.

"Wednesday I was just telling my caddie, all I want to do this week is make a bunch of birdies, I know I can make a bunch," Wagner said. And he has -- 14, to be exact, as well as the eagle at the 12th hole on Thursday that put visions of an unrequited 59 in his head. 

But just as The Greenbrier Classic loves a comeback story -- remember Stuart Appleby, who ended a four-year victory drought with his win in the inaugural event? -- first-time winners also have history here.

Count Walker, Matt Jones, Steve Bowditch and 19-year-old Jordan Speith, with the latter three starting the final round five strokes back, among the players with aspirations of joining Ted Potter Jr. and Scott Stallings with breakthrough victories on Sunday.

Walker has the least ground to make up Sunday, as well as the edge in experience, having played 180 events and owning two thirds, most recently at Pebble Beach earlier this year, among his 18 career top-10s. But the former Web.com Tour Player of the Year knows better than to force the issue.

"I can't make it happen," he said. "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."

Not that it's been easy to be patient, though.

"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," Walker said. "You're there, you're knocking, you're close."

The exceptional Spieth certainly has been, too. He's only played in 10 TOUR events this year but finished 10th or better in half of those. In fact, he tied for second in Puerto Rico, which, coupled with a tie for seventh the next week in Tampa Bay, paved his way to special temporary membership on TOUR.

The way Wagner's been going about his business this week, though, he figures to be hard to catch. That said, Appleby came from seven strokes back to notch his victory thanks to the holy grail of a 59.

The key for everyone will be staying aggressive on The Old White TPC on Sunday. The scoring average for the last two rounds has clocked in at about a half-stroke under par and with three 62s shot already this week there's cause for optimism, although Wagner's confidence is formidable right now.

"If he plays like he did today, it's going to take something special tomorrow," Bodwitch concluded.

Something special for a special day.