Following a week that featured an eight-stroke runaway in Maryland by Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the PGA Tour figures to be more competitive this week, as it makes its annual excursion to rural West Virginia for the newly-named A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
Dubbed “America’s Resort”, The Greenbrier is a luxury venue famed for its inimitable design and its Cold War Bunker, among other things, but it has established a well-earned reputation for having a resilient, golf-crazed community.
Just two years removed from severely destructive, widespread flooding that nearly washed out the lifeblood of southern West Virginia, The Greenbrier’s story has become one ultimately of triumph.
This year’s edition features a stable of bankable names, and boasts a jovial crowd that has little competition among the best seen in professional golf.
Here are the players we like best to land in the winner’s circle of the eighth edition of the Military Tribute at The Greenbrier:
15. TED POTTER JR.
The 34-year-old has not been relevant in many PGA tournaments in his relatively short career, but has shown a clear affinity for The Old White TPC, making it the site of his first career victory in 2012, and placing T6 the following year in his championship defense.
Potter Jr. added win No. 2 to his resume in February at Pebble Beach, when he shockingly outdueled world No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the final pairing. He has not had many great outings since in 2018, but his irons and putter were both dialed in during a T23 effort at last week’s Quicken Loans National.
World Rank: 89
Last Greenbrier Start: T37 (2017)
Last Seven: 23, MC, MC, 57, 42, 41, 27
14. CHARLES HOWELL III
Shockingly, CH3 has not won since 2007, but the 39-year-old keeps plugging away, posting one good finish after another, with eight of his last 11 starts resulting in a top-25.
At last week’s Quicken Loans National, where he finished T17, Howell was second in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and showed a bit more power than we are used to seeing from him, placing third in the field in driving distance. His putting was abysmal at TPC Potomac, but he has played well with his flat stick for such a long time that there should not be worry of an extended putting slump.
What could be a concern, however, is that he has not played well at this course since a T9 at the inaugural 2010 event, which played embarrassingly easy for a professional venue.
World Rank: 55
Last Greenbrier Start: T45 (2017)
Last Seven: 17, 25, 26, 65, 9, 17, 21
13. J.J. SPAUN
The 27-year-old San Diego State product (the same alma mater as defending champion Xander Schauffele) could fit the trend of first time winners at The Greenbrier, and he certainly has the iron game and shot-making prowess to get himself into the leader mix.
While Spaun has missed a disturbing number of cuts in the calendar year, he has shown flashes of top form as of late, finishing T3 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, where he opened with a 64 and closed with a 63, and at last week’s Quicken Loans National, where he was a first-round co-leader after a Thursday 63. He was T29 in this event last year, shooting three sub-70s rounds.
World Rank: 147
Last Greenbrier Start: T29 (2017)
Last Seven: 27, 47, MC, MC, 3, MC, 26
12. J.B. HOLMES
If not for a very surprising missed cut at last week’s Quicken Loans National, we would be hyping Holmes as a target of converging trends: great recent form combined with great course history.
If he can shake off what happened at TPC Potomac, however, he placed T2, 3, T13 in his previous three starts respectively, with a resurgent tee-to-green game to credit for the two higher finishes.
His Greenbrier highlight was a 60 he shot in the birdie bonanza that was the 2010 inaugural event, but he has also played well at The Old White since it was molded into a legitimate PGA Tour course, with a high finish of T9 in last year’s edition.
World Rank: 81
Last Greenbrier Start: T9 (2017)
Last Seven: MC, 2, 3, 13, 42, MC, 42
11. BRIAN GAY
With four top-20 finishes in his last five Tour starts, Gay is playing his best golf since his two-win 2009 season. The 46-year-old has more top 25s in 22 events this year (10), than he had in the previous four seasons combined (9). He has been tremendously accurate off the tees as of late, leading to a big uptick in birdies, a statistic he placed third in just last week, and inside the top 11 in three of his past five events.
In spite of his recent form, his awful history on The Old White TPC is keeping him down in these rankings; his only made cut in the event came last year, when he opened with a 3-under 67, but faded to 72nd place finish.
World Rank: 119
Last Greenbrier Start: 72 (2017)
Last Seven: 8, 20, 12, 44, 12, 72, MC
10. JIMMY WALKER
After a difficult year and a half, largely imputed to Lyme Disease, Walker was finally looking like himself again, with six consecutive top-25 finishes, including three in the top 6.
However, his last two results have been a T56 at the U.S. Open, and a T60 last week at TPC Potomac, where he needed to rally for a second round 67 just to make the cut on the number. He did lead the Quicken Loans field in strokes gained: around-the-green, but was downright ghastly from further away, hitting just 20 fairways for the entire week (out of 56), and losing significant ground on his approaches.
The state of Walker’s game is something of an unknown, but he does have good history at The Old White, finishing runner-up in 2013, and T4 in 2011. Even with his struggles last year, he still put together a solid T18 week.
World Rank: 62
Last Greenbrier Start: T18 (2017)
Last Seven: 60, 56, 20, 6, 2, 4, 20
9. BRIAN HARMAN
Harman has finally re-added The Greenbrier to his schedule after poor results in three tries from 2012-2014, and he should be much more confident than he was then.
Over the past season and a half, Harman has 15 top-10 finishes, and while he has not quite been in the form he was early in 2018, he has two rounds of 64 in his past three starts, with the most recent one coming on Thursday at the Travelers Championship, leading to a T6 finish. Having four sub-70 rounds at TPC River Highlands was especially encouraging, as Harman had been unable to avoid high numbers consistently over the previous few months.
Harman currently ranks 7th in strokes gained: putting, and 14th in scoring average.
World Rank: 26
Last Greenbrier Start: MC (2014)
Last Seven: 6, 36, 14, MC, 74, 23, 44
8. DANNY LEE
The state of Danny Lee’s game is anyone’s guess right now; in his last six events he has three missed cuts, but also three top-15s. Lee has played tremendously at The Old White TPC, however, the site of his only career PGA Tour victory, when he emerged from a four-man playoff in the 2015 event.
He placed T9 in his title defense (the 2016 event was cancelled) last year, and was T16 in 2014, his only other attempt at The Greenbrier. While we do not know which version of Lee we are going to get this week, the fact that the course seems to suit his eye so well should make his fans optimistic.
World Rank: 141
Last Greenbrier Start: T9 (2017)
Last Seven: MC, 15, MC, MC, 14, 7, MC
7. XANDER SCHAUFFELE
The defending Greenbrier Champion but together a shot-making clinic in last year’s come from behind victory in White Sulphur Springs. It was his first career victory, and led to even better things when he captured the Tour Championship, finished third in the final FedExCup standings, and was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
He has played mostly good in his sophomore campaign, but is in absolutely puzzling form as of late. In his last five starts, he has three missed cuts, but his made cuts were a T2 at THE PLAYERS and a T6 at the U.S. Open, easily the best two fields he faced in that span.
If he brings the iron game he had last year, the 24-year-old could find himself as the event’s first two-time champion.
World Rank: 24
Last Greenbrier Start: Win (2017)
Last Seven: MC, 6, MC, MC, 2, 72, 73
6. PHIL MICKELSON
With 43 career victories, the Hall of Fame 48-year-old Mickelson has been able to figure out most courses, but The Old White TPC is one of the few that he has not yet been able to decipher. He missed the cut entirely in his first three attempts, and was in 61st place after 54 holes last year, but was finally able to piece something good together in a 6-under 64 on Sunday to finish a respectable T20.
Mickelson has played tremendously this season, with a win and six top-10s in 16 starts, but has been all over the place as of late. That is best illustrated in his last start, the U.S. Open, where he posted two rounds of 69 on the brutally-difficult Shinnecock Hills venue, but also hacked his way to rounds of 77 and 81.
Last year, at this time, Phil was breaking in a brand-new caddy after his decades long relationship with Jim “Bones” MacKay abruptly came to an end. Now with his brother Tim on his bag for officially one season, and an increased level of comfort in West Virginia (like Bubba Watson, he owns Sporting Club property), this could finally be the year he gets into Greenbrier contention.
World Rank: 20
Last Greenbrier Start: T20 (2017)
Last Seven: 48, 12, 13, MC, 5, 36, 24
5. RUSSELL HENLEY
A three-time PGA Tour winner, Henley’s last two attempts at The Old White TPC have resulted in fifth place finishes, including last year, where he jumped into the leader mix after a sizzling second-round 64.
In addition to showing that he can go low in the Greenbrier Valley, Henley has looked mostly exceptional in his last three outings; posting a 68-68 weekend at The Memorial, contending for two days at the U.S. Open, and then placing T6 at the Travelers Championship, where he led the field in bogeys (2), driving accuracy, and greens in regulation.
If his short game does not hold him back at The Greenbrier, as it has for much of the season, another competitive start feels inevitable.
World Rank: 46
Last Greenbrier Start: T5 (2017)
Last Seven: 6, 25, 29, 58, MC, MC, 15
4. WEBB SIMPSON
The man who destroyed the field at THE PLAYERS Championship in May has been a horse for the earlier rounds of the course at The Old White TPC. Simpson held leads at some point in this event in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but struggled to close in all three, leading to finishes of T9, T7, and T41, respectively.
He was more consistent last year, putting together four straight rounds in the high 60s to place T14. In three events since his PLAYERS breakthrough, Simpson has two missed cuts and a T10, with the latter coming at the U.S. Open, but despite that sudden hit-or-miss nature, it seems unlikely that he will not a factor at this course he has been so (largely) comfortable at.
With his first win in tow in five years, we should see a calmer Webb Simpson if he again gets himself near the lead.
World Rank: 21
Last Greenbrier Start: T14 (2017)
Last Seven: MC, 10, MC, 1, 21, 5, 20
3. JOAQUIN NIEMANN
In seven editions of A Military at The Greenbrier, four of them have been won by rookies, including Xander Schauffele last year, the first victory in a PGA Tour Rookie of the Year campaign. Among this year’s rookie class, nobody looks closer to breaking out than 19-year-old Chilean phenom Joaquin Niemann.
In just seven events as a professional, Niemann has three top 10s, and shot a final-round 65 at last week’s Quicken Loans National for a T17. He played last year’s Greenbrier as an amateur on a sponsor’s exemption, and played very well in three of four rounds, opening with a pair of 68s and shooting a co-field low 64 on Sunday to finish T29.
He has a game well beyond his years, and this year, he will not be just content being in the field; he could very well win this thing.
World Rank: 203
Last Greenbrier Start: N/A
Last Seven: 17, MC, 6, 8, MC, MC, 6
2. TONY FINAU
Statistically the third longest hitter on Tour this year, Finau has shown an ability to contend at an amazing variety of courses, and seems prime to take his first non-opposite field PGA Tour title.
Finau enters off a fifth place effort at the U.S. Open where he led the field in birdies, and played his way into the final Sunday pairing, and has looked great in his two attempts at The Old White TPC, finishing T13 in 2015, and T7 last year. Great form combined with a generally weak field has us loving Tony’s chances this week.
World Rank: 31
Last Greenbrier Start: T7 (2017)
Last Seven: 5, MC, 13, 57, 21, 10, 24
1. BUBBA WATSON
In what is shaping up to be one heck of a comeback season, Bubba Watson is fresh off his third win of the season, which occurred two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship. The only player on the PGA Tour this season with three victories, Bubba ranked 117th in the world after a T35 finish at Pebble Beach, and has since ascended to No. 12 in the world, the highest ranking of anyone in The Greenbrier field.
He has been pretty hit-or-miss this season, playing exceptional golf at courses he has played well before, and struggling to find a consistent game otherwise. Does he like The Old White TPC? Well, he finished T70 last year, but was T13 and T16 in his previous two attempts.
Regardless, Bubba and White Sulphur Springs, WV have a deep mutual love. He owns property at the extremely opulent Greenbrier Sporting Club, and was an magnanimous figure in the humanitarian efforts following the devastating floods that obliterated the region two years ago. There are few outcomes that would be a huge surprise this week, but we lean towards believing that he will keep his hot play going.
World Rank: 12
Last Greenbrier Start: T70 (2017)
Last Seven: 1, MC, 44, 57, 5, 1, 66