Greenbrier Classic: Gainey, Wagner share lead at 8-under
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Johnson Wagner shook off all of the bad vibes of six missed cuts in his last seven events and a withdrawal at the Memorial to shoot career-best 8-under 62 and tie for the first-round lead Thursday at the fourth annual Greenbrier Classic on the Old White TPC.
Wagner shares the lead with Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey, whose 62 on the par 70, 7,287-yard course was a career-best first round score in a PGA Tour event.
Much like Gainey, Wagner hasn't had a memorable 2013, with only two top 25 finishes and 11 missed cuts in 17 events. Wagner's worst season prior to this year was his rookie year in 2007, when he missed 18 cuts in 33 events.
"I've struggled with my ball striking all year," said Wagner, who finished tied for 83rd in the 2010 Classic, tied for 11th in 2011 and tied for 64th last year. "Even my good finishes, my ball striking has been terrible."
Wagner and Gainey are two strokes ahead of Jin Park, who had a career-best round of 64, and Webb Simpson, who led by one stroke heading into the final nine holes at White Sulphur Springs last year before finishing in a tie for seventh.
The players dealt with rain on Thursday morning, after it fell most of the week during the practice rounds and Wednesday's Pro-Am. They were permitted to use preferred lies - lift, clean, and place - which most assuredly helped 49 players shoot under par. It marks the most players under 70 since the course was altered following the inaugural Classic in 2010, when there were 81.
Wagner likes being at the top of that group this year, especially after a frustrating sequence of events that included withdrawing from a damp Memorial after he shot a first-round 79.
"I had three holes to go on Friday, was shooting a million and I thought we were going to come back the next morning and I needed some rest," he said. "I felt bad to withdraw from Mr. Nicklaus' tournament, but I just didn't want to come back out and sit out a 17-hour rain delay."
Gainey was equally excited about his first round, following a series of missed cuts and missed opportunities.
Since finishing in a tie for sixth at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Gainey finished no better than tied for 18th and has 13 cuts in 21 tournaments. He did make three consecutive cuts earlier this season and is sitting in first place on the heels of back-to-back made cuts.
"I surprised myself," he said. "I played horrible this year. What I've done, since I shot 60 last year and won that tournament (McGladrey Classic), I felt like I put more pressure on myself to play more consistently and to do better.
"I had been hitting it kind of bad, not real good, and just to put the new driver in the bag and to get the results that I did today and especially with the putter, I'm very happy."
Gainey switched to a new Callaway driver - Optiforce - and missed only one fairway.
With three days to go, Simpson and Park are hanging close to the top. Park is on his second try at the PGA Tour, returning to the Web.com Tour in 2009 after 16 cuts and only one top-25 finish in 2008.
This year hasn't gone much better for the former Arizona State University player. His best finish is a tie for 31st at the Shell Houston Open, but he has 11 missed cuts in 14 attempts this year.
"I put in a new putter, it's a counter-balance putter," Park said. "The ball seemed to find the hole and I made a lot of long putts today, which hasn't been the case this year. It was a lot of fun watching all those putts go in."
Park ranks 166th on Tour in strokes gained putting.
"I feel like I haven't been putting poorly, I just haven't made a lot of putts," he said. "I was driving it well today, keeping it in play and that helped. I don't feel like I did anything special tee to green, but it was a pretty special day for me on the greens."
Phil Mickelson, who has missed the cut at Old White in his first two tries, struggled on No. 17, which led to a 4-over 74. The projected cut is even-par 140, which means Mickelson will have to shoot at least 4-under today to play through the weekend.
"I played the last two holes 4-over, which is not good," he said. "I was trying to make the birdie at No. 2, thinking if I made a birdie I would be OK heading into (today's) round, but I don't know what it is. I feel like I was playing really well heading into here and I don't play this course well."
Today's second round begins with Chris DiMarco, Jimmy Walker and Daniel Summerhays teeing off on No. 1 at 7 a.m., while Rod Pampling, Richard Lee and Robert Streb at the same time on No. 10.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.