Greenbrier Classic: Outsiders worth chancing in West Virginia

Golfer Scott Piercy
Scott Piercy – one of The Punter’s fancies at the Greenbrier

The Greenbrier Classic has been a graveyard for favourites and a great event to trade. Read our man's detailed preview for all the details here...

"Outsiders have a phenomenal record in this event. Schauffele was an 80.079/1 chance 12 months ago and he was the first winner not to be matched at a triple-figure price before the off! Don't be afraid to back an outsider or two and don't worry if this is their first visit to the Old White either. That looks like a considerable plus too."

Tournament History

Stuart Appleby won the inaugural Greenbrier Classic as recently as 2010, thanks to an 11-under-par 59 in round four.

The tournament was cancelled two years ago after heavy rain submerged the course completely so this is only the eighth edition.

With the Open Championship looming large, it's place in the schedule isn't ideal but with the likes of Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and defending champ, Xander Schauffele in attendance, this year's edition isn't terribly weak.


The Old White TPC Course at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Course Details

Par 70, 7,286 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 69.86

The Greenbrier is one of the oldest resorts in America, dating right back to 1778 when travellers were attracted to the hot sulphur springs.

Designed by Charles Blair McDonald and Seth Raynor, the golf course opened in 1914 and it's been enjoyed by the rich and famous ever since. The course was restored by Lester George in 2006 and while the players enjoyed themselves in the inaugural event, with low scores all over the place (Stuart Appleby won the event after shooting 59 on the Sunday with a 22 under-par total), the event committee decided it was just too easy and extensive changes were made before the 2012 renewal.

All the greens were reseeded with Bentgrass and 16 holes were changed, with 241 yards added. It worked - the field found less fairways and greens and when Bill Haas, Bob Estes and eventual winner, Scott Stallings, fought out a playoff to decide the title, -10 was as low as they got.

The scoring has crept up again since but it's no pushover and the fact that it plays at altitude doesn't help. Clubbing is very hard and the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their pomp have been left bemused and missed out on weekend employment here.

After the course was completely devastated by the rain in 2016, Keith Foster was brought in to reseed and rebuild it, although Seth Raynor's original design was largely maintained. In total, 20 bunkers were repositioned and the undulations on the greens were softened to allow for more pin positions but it didn't play too differently.

The Old White TPC Course was rated as the 27th hardest course of the 50 used on the PGA Tour last year and the greens usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter..

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days starting on Thursday at 20:30. Featured Group Coverage begins earlier on Thursday, at 18:30 UK time.

First Seven Tournament Winners

2017 - Xander Schauffele -14
2016 - Cancelled due to waterlogging
2015 - Danny Lee -13 (playoff)
2014 - Angel Cabrera -16
2013 - Jonas Blixt -13
2012 - Ted Potter Jr -16 (playoff)
2011 - Scott Stallings -10 (playoff)
2010 - Stuart Appleby -22

What Will it Take to Win the Greenbrier Classic?

The average Driving Distance ranking of the seven winners at this event is 27.14 and the average Driving Accuracy ranking is 28.14 so neither stat looks essential but I'd just, fractionally, favour length over accuracy.

The first four home 12 months ago ranked 15th, sixth, eighth and 11th and Tony Finau, who finished tied for seventh hit it further than anyone else but it's not something to get hung up on. At the 2015 edition, the four playoff protagonists - eventual winner Danny Lee, Kevin Kisner, David Hearn and Robert Streb - ranked 54th, 53rd, 56th and 31st for DD.

The Greens In Regulation and Scrambling stats make for interesting reading. Last year's winner, Schauffele, and the 2014 champ, Angel Cabrera, both ranked number one for GIR and Scott Stallings ranked second when he won in 2011 but the other four winners have ranked 21st, 40th, 43rd and 48th and it's a very similar story with Scrambling. Three winners have ranked third or better but the other four ranked 47th, 52nd, 62nd and 68th. In most instances, it's a case of hit lots of greens or scramble well but Danny Lee won ranking in the 40s for both stats.

When Stallings took the title in 2011 his Putting Average ranking was just 19th and he ranked only 16th for Strokes Gained Putting but the other six winners have ranked second, second, first, fourth, first and sixth for PA and third, first, second, fifth, seventh and sixth for Strokes Gained Putting so to a large extent, the Greenbrier Classic is a putting competition.

Is There an Angle In?

Form at the Sony Open might be worth looking at. The host course in Hawaii, Waialae Country Club, is another par 70 Seth Raynor design and a number of players with form at Waialae have played well here too.

Justin Thomas, who hacked up in Hawaii last year, hit the front here three years ago and was matched at just 2.26/5 on the front-nine on Sunday but he collapsed in spectacular fashion to finish 54th and runner-up, Kisner, also gives the form a boost. He's finished inside the top-five of the Sony a couple of times.

Jimmy Walker, who won back-to-back Sonys, has finished 4th here twice and he was runner-up to Blixt in 2013. The 2013 Sony winner, Russell Henley, led this event at halfway five years ago and he finished fifth in the last two editions, Webb Simpson has form at both tracks, James Hahn, who was beaten in a playoff in the Sony in January finished sixth here in 2015, and the man that led after three rounds in 2013, Johnson Wagner, won the Sony Open the year before.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Outsiders have a phenomenal record in this event. Schauffele was an 80.079/1 chance 12 months ago and he was the first winner not to be matched at a triple-figure price before the off! Don't be afraid to back an outsider or two and don't worry if this is their first visit to the Old White either. That looks like a considerable plus too.

Danny Lee, who is the only winner to have played in the event before he won it, was matched at 170.0169/1 before the off three years ago, Cabrera was matched at 160.0159/1 in 2015, Blixt was tipped up by Paul Krishnamurty in his Find Me a 100 Winner column at 130.0129/1 in 2014, and the two playoff protagonists in 2012 both went off at 1000.0!

Xander Schauffele was the third rookie winner of The Greenbrier Classic, joining Stallings and Potter Jr. and he was the fourth player to record his maiden PGA TOUR victory at The Greenbrier Classic, joining Lee, Ted Potter Jr and Stallings.

In-Play Tactics

This is not a frontrunner's venue. Schauffele was never outside the top-seven and tied but he was five off the lead at halfway and still three back with a round to go.

The 2015 winner, Lee, sat second and a stroke out of the lead after the opening round and he trailed by just a stroke after rounds two and three too but the three he beat in extra time came from much further adrift. Hearn sat 48th after round one before sitting alongside Lee after rounds two and three and the other two playoff protagonists were never really in it until the end. Streb sat 48th, 26th and 12th after rounds one, two and three; Kisner sat 27th, 40th and 17th.

This is hard place to lead and no third round leader or co-leader has ever won. Sebastian Munoz finished tied for third having led by two through 54 holes last year and there were four men tied at the top with a round to go in 2015 and none of them made the top-five!

The lead tends to chop and change and coming from off the pace to win is perfectly possible. One year after Appleby fired 59 to come from seven back to win the inaugural event, Bob Estes came from six back to get into a playoff (won by Stallings) with a final round of 64. And both the 2012 and 2013 winners, Potter Jr and Blixt, trailed by four with a round to go.

Cabrera was only two back in 2014 but it's definitely a course where you can come from way off the pace. With the knowledge that his sister was gravely ill and dying from cancer, George McNeill shot 61 to finish second to Cabrera. That moved him up 17 places on the leaderboard and he finished four clear of Webb Simpson in third. The poor man then had to wait around for hours to see if he'd be required for a playoff, having been told after his round that his sister Michelle had died.

Not only has nobody successfully converted a third round lead, nobody leading at the end of any round has won. All the leaders or co-leaders after rounds one, two and three in the first seven editions have been beaten and the eventual winner has come from behind by an average of 3.14 strokes on the final day.

Market Leaders

One of the reasons favourites have such a poor record is the quality of the resort. Many of the players enthuse about the place, purring about the facilities, and telling anyone that will listen how much their families enjoy this particular PGA Tour stop. It's almost as if the tournament itself is secondary to some and that needs to be considered when backing anyone but especially when considering whether to side with the three favourites - Tony Finau, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. Finau is a father of four, Bubba and his wife dote over their adopted pair and Lefty has always put family first.

Finau heads the list but he looks short enough to me given he's only ever won one PGA Tour event. I can see why he's fancied though. In two visits here he's finished 13th and seventh and he performed very well last time out when finished fifth at the US Open.

Bubba's course form figures read a respectable enough 30-16-13-70 but he's never threatened to win the event and Mickelson definitely looks worth swerving. He finished 20th 12 months ago but missed the cut on his first three visits.


Given the tournament's history, I'm laying almost everyone priced at below 100.099/1 with one or two exceptions (26 players layed in total) and I'm playing a few speculative outsiders.

Scott Piercy was in contention last time out in the US Open and he's a former runner-up of the Sony Open. This year's Sony runner-up, James Hahn, is chanced at a big price, Ben Crane is a great putter, playing better than his odds suggest, and I've also played four-time Tour winner and ace putter, Stephan Jaeger, who also ticks the course debut and rookie boxes, and last but not least, I've thrown a few pounds at the 2017 Sony Open winner, Fabian Gomez.

Scott Piercy @ 90.089/1
James Hahn @ 130.0129/1
Ben Crane @ 220.0219/1
Stephan Jaeger @ 210.0209/1
Fabian Gomez @ 340.0339/1

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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