Greenbrier Classic: Big-hitting Kokrak can get off the mark, says The Punter

Jason Kokrak, one of just two picks for The Punter

Steve has a plan in place for this week's PGA Tour event in West Virginia, where he's backed just two outsiders and where he's laying all the market leaders before the off. Read his in-depth preview here...

“With nobody having much of a course experience edge, this is an ideal event for rookies or players with little PGA Tour experience to strike. The first six home last year were all PGA Tour maidens and it would be no surprise at all if we saw a third first-time winner in-a-row this time around.”

Tournament History
This is just the third staging of the Greenbrier Classic.

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

Course Details
Par 70 -7,287 yards
Stroke Index in 2012 - 69.78

The Greenbrier is one of the oldest resorts in America, dating right back to 1778 when travellers were attracted to the hot sulphur springs. Although this is just the fourth staging of this event word is spreading amongst the players as to how great a place it is for families and that probably has as much to do with the strong field as the attraction of the course itself.

Designed by Charles Blair McDonald and Seth Raynor, the 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 whilst the players enjoyed themselves in the inaugural Greenbrier Classic 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 and16 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 lowered again last year though, with the field averaging a shade under-par and with Ted Potter Jr and Troy Kelly meeting in a playoff, having gotten to -16. The one tweak to the course before this year's renewal comes at the par 3 finishing hole, where 13 yards have been added.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Details
Tee Times

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 8.00pm on Thursday

First Three Winners
2012 - Ted Potter Jr -16 (playoff)
2011 - Scott Stallings -10 (playoff)
2010 - Stuart Appleby -22

What will it take to win the Greenbrier Classic?
Stats-wise, there were a lot of big hitters on the leaderboard last year and Scott Stallings ranked fifth for driving distance in 2011 but bombing it off the tee is certainly not essential.

In all probability this will again develop into a putting competition with birdies flying in all over the shop but that never really helps much when trying to find the winner before the off. You can analyse the strokes gained putting stats to see who's been putting well this season but it's nigh on impossible to predict who will putt the lights out on any given week.

Is there an angle in?
With nobody having much of a course experience edge, this an ideal event for rookies or players with little PGA Tour experience to strike. Jeff Overton, who's still yet to win a PGA Tour event, was cruelly denied by Stuart Appleby's magical 59 in the inaugural staging but the next two renewals went to a first-timer. To emphasize the point further, the first six home last year were all PGA Tour maidens and it would be no surprise at all if we saw a third first-time winner in-a-row this time around.

Is there an identikit winner?
Understandably given they'd never won before, the last two winners were a huge price but so was Apples in 2010. And the players that pushed pre-event 1000.0 shot Potter Jr hardest twelve months ago, Troy Kelly and Charlie Beljan, were also matched at the maximum. So far, the Greenbrier Classic has been an outsider's event.

In-Play Tactics
I know we've only got three year's worth of form to study but all the evidence to date suggests this is a very tough place to front run.

Nobody has led after day one and won, nobody has led at halfway and won and nobody has converted a 54-hole lead either. In fact, nobody leading at any end of round stage has even made a playoff, let alone won the event.

Appleby was three off the lead after day one but eight behind at halfway and seven back after round three. Potter Jr was six, five and four back after rounds one, two and three and the closest we've come to an up-with-the pace winner so far has been Stallings. He trailed by fully six shots after day one but he had closed to within two at halfway and to within a stroke after round three.

Potter Jr played the last four holes in four under-par twelve months ago and he finished eagle-birdie, so late ground can be made rapidly and anyone out in front has to go low to stay there. It's clearly a very hard place to lead.

Market Leaders
Phil Mickelson
heads the market and rightly so. He's been in fine form this season and but for a cold putter he'd be arriving in West Virginia as the brand new US Open Champion. You never quite know with mercurial Mickelson but for my money he's well worth swerving this week.

He and the family enjoy the resort but he hasn't yet enjoyed the course. He's played here in each of the last two years and he's missed the cut twice. In fact, he's yet to break par.

Second favourite Webb Simpson will have painful memories of day four last year. After opening up with a five under-par 65 to sit in tied 5th, he led at halfway and through 54 holes but slumped right down to tied 7th with an awful 73 on Sunday. Obviously, he's more than capable of banishing such a memory but at less than 20.019/1 he makes little appeal.

Bubba Watson and Bill Haas are vying for third favouritism but both look opposable. Bubba and his caddy fell out at the Travelers Championship last time out when a wrong club selection cost him dear and Haas is bidding to win back-to-back PGA Tour events. Both might have slight hangovers to overcome and both look worth swerving.

Selections
I'm backing just two before the off here - Jason Kokrak and Stephen Ames.

Kokrak ticks the big-hitting maiden box and was in fine fettle last week when third at Congressional and I was quite surprised to see that Ames is currently ranked second for strokes gained putting.

Selections:
Jason Kokrak @ 110.0109/1
Stephen Ames @ 900.0899/1

I'm not just leaving it at though, as I did at the Travelers Championship two weeks ago, I'm laying everyone at less than 90.089/1 before the off and I'm going to try and tweak my book as the week goes on, with the ultimate goal of getting into a position by the end whereby I don't care who wins.

The plan worked well at the Travelers, despite some of the fancied runners starting well, and this event looks ideal to attempt a repeat.

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

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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