WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia – You can bet the next time Harold Varner III plays a practice round with Tiger Woods he won’t be checking his smart phone on the tee or between shots.
Varner did sneak some glances the first time the two teed it up. The second time, Woods laid down the law.
“He made me put my phone up, because the first time I played with him, I was like, dude, relax, it'll be okay,” Varner said with a grin. “And then he wasn't having it the next time.”
That was part of a broader lesson, though. Woods was trying to teach the affable Varner how to focus, how to block out the extraneous and concentrate on the task at hand.
And should Varner win A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier on Sunday, the former world No. 1’s words of advice just might pay dividends.
“He said that focusing is like reading a book while you're watching TV,” Varner said. “So like you hear the noise but you focus on the book. So the golf course is the book, so don't act like you don't hear it.
“And I thought that was awesome.”
Varner enters the final round at the Old White TPC holding a share of the lead with Kelly Kraft. Both are seeking their first PGA TOUR win in their 85th starts. Neither has led entering the final round.
Varner’s previous best TOUR finish came when he tied for fifth at the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He did win the 2016 Australian PGA Championship, though, and feels like he’s getting better with each passing year.
“I want to see how good I can get, and every year I find a way to just keep learning, keep growing,” Varner said. “… I'm going to wake up tomorrow and give it all I've got.”
So far, Varner has been extremely steady. He’s only made two bogeys this week and hasn’t dropped a shot to par since the 12th hole of his first round. He’s tied for the lead in scrambling, too.
“I’m pretty hungry,” Varner said. “I’m ready to see what happens. This is what you work for. This is what I get so pumped up to do.”
At the same time, Varner plans to keep the day in perspective, a word he mentioned more than once in his post-round interview. He’ll be the same person when Sunday’s round is over regardless of whether he wins or not.
“You know, if I shoot 90 tomorrow, I'm going to be able to go home and my mom is going to give me a kiss and say, You're still a winner. I'm going to be mad, but that's just how it is,” he said.
“And then if I win, she's going to humble me and be like, You're not better than me, and I thoroughly enjoy that. I'm going to mow my parents' grass on Monday, so that's just what I'm going to do.”
A year ago, Kelly Kraft was the one chasing the leaders at The Greenbrier. He was four strokes off the lead held by Sebastian Munoz and ended up shooting 69 to tie for fifth. This year, though, he and Varner are the hunted, one stroke ahead of defending champion Xander Schauffele and Kevin Na. “I'm looking forward to going out in the last group and having some fun,” Kraft said.
“It will play firm again, so I will get after it with wedges and hit it to more conservative lines when need be. Hopefully I'll roll in a few long ones. It will be a fun day. This is what we play for, to be in contention.”
The Greenbrier has been played seven times previously and believe it or not, a first-, second- or third-round leader has never gone on to win. Schauffele was one of those come-from-behind winners, making up a three-stroke deficit last year with a final-round 67. He finds himself in a similar position this year, although only trailing by one, and is among15 players within five strokes of the lead. Schauffele feels the experience he gained in 2017 should serve him well on Sunday. “Instead of getting nervous, I've been trying to relive some of those moments last year and remind myself that I do play well here, obviously, and sort of keep that on the forefront versus getting nervous,” he explained.
Bubba Watson delighted the crowd on Saturday as h climbed the leaderboard with a 65 that left him 11 under. Watson, who has a summer home here at The Greenbrier, is seeking his fourth win of the season and second in the last three weeks. His best finish in four starts at The Old White TPC, though, is a tie for 13th in 2015. Even though his 65 was his lowest in competition here, Watson knows he needs to improve his putting. He ranks third in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green but 49th in Strokes Gained: Putting. “Still not comfortable,” Watson said. “I think I left at least two from inside 15 feet, dead in the heart short. Maybe three today. So even though I made a lot of birdies there was a couple, one extra roll and I would have made a couple more birdies. But like I said, it's my own frustrations. The score is great, but I want to be lower because I want to have a chance to lift that trophy.”
QUOTABLESEvery time I get in contention, I'm hungry to win. When I won, it took me eight years, and I told everybody that it will not take that long to win my second one, and I'm running out of time. Hopefully I get this done.I'm an athlete. I want to win. So let's go with that first. Then all these other guys are trying to beat me, so I'm trying to beat them. Then another trophy on the mantle would be nice. Having a house here, being a member here at the club, The Greenbrier has been so good to me, the fans and everything, so it would be nice to win. I'll call myself a local boy. It would be good to have the trophy stay here.
Lowest round: Bronson Burgoon, Kevin Na, J.T. Poston, Xander Schauffele and Bubba Watson each shot 65.
Longest drive: Tony Finau hit a 369-yarder on the sixth hole.
Longest putt: Brett Stegmaier made a birdie putt of 59 feet, 11 inches on the par 4 14th hole.
Hardest hole: The par-4 13th hole played to an average of 4.247 with just 4 birdies, 53 pars, 18 bogeys, 1 double bogey and one “other.”
Easiest hole: The par-5 17th hole played to an average of 4.571 with 1 eagle, 35 birdies, 38 pars, just 2 bogeys and one double bogey.
CALL OF THE DAY
For play-by-play coverage of the final round at A Miltary Tribute at The Greenbrier, listen at PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Kelly Kraft's solid chip in for Shot of the Day