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Greenbrier star power belongs to Simpson

Webb Simpson at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic
Getty Images

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – If the biggest story on Friday at The Greenbrier Classic was the fact that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson each failed to qualify for the weekend rounds, then the biggest story on Saturday may just have been that the tournament continued as scheduled without either of the two stars in the field.

After all, the show must go on.

While their absence likely hindered such things as television ratings and gallery size and general fan interest, the one faction for which this aberration hardly caused a ripple was their fellow players.

There’s often been a sense that multiple major champions such as Woods and Mickelson can instill some sort of fear or intimidation into the hearts of other competitors. That concept can be debated at length, but it’s impossible to argue the contrary. Which is to say that the void left by those players is hardly still being felt within the confines of the gallery ropes.

In more direct terms, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.

“Yeah, zero. I don't look at that,” J.B. Holmes, currently in a share of third place, said about the weekend absence of Tiger and Phil. “The only time they're affecting me is when they're on the top of the leaderboard and they're beating you. I mean, they're great players and obviously they both just had an off week, [but] it doesn't matter.

“Somebody's getting hot every week; it's not always those two. There's somebody that's going to be playing well, somebody's still going to shoot 15, 16 under. It's not like just because they don't make the cut that it's not going to be a good tournament or it's not going to be competitive or everybody's going to stop shooting under par or anything like that.”

It’s a common sentiment amongst his fellow contenders right now, because it’s the correct sentiment.

The simple fact is, when a player in contention wakes up in the morning and eats breakfast and arrives at the course and warms up on the range and practices his putting and stands on the first tee and gets into competition, the last thing he’s thinking about is the other players in the field.

Scratch that. The last thing he’s thinking about is the players who aren’t in the field.

“I’ve played with some big-name guys out here and I’ve played with some guys off the Nationwide,” said Ken Duke, also tied for third. “I think if you’re comfortable with your game, you’re going to play well. If you’re not, you’re not going to play well. It doesn’t matter who you are. Obviously some of those guys might have an effect on you, but if you’re comfortable with your game, I think you can step right up there and do it.”

“I haven’t been in this position a whole lot,” explained Troy Kelly, currently in solo second, “so it would be nice to have some guys that are feeling like I am out there tomorrow. It’s hard for me to believe [Woods and Mickelson] missed the cut. They never do, you know? But yeah, I think just having the guys that haven’t been in this position, be around them, kind of talk and kind of go through the same thing, I think it will be good.”

He may not have the name recognition of Tiger or Phil, but if there’s one player the contenders should be aware of, it’s Webb Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion and current leader by two strokes.

Simpson is attempting to claim his fourth PGA Tour title in the past 12 months. The other nine players who comprise the top 10 entering Sunday? Well, they own a combined two career wins, both of which belong to Holmes.

It represents an interesting turn of events. After playing the first two rounds with Woods, Simpson now finds himself as the main attraction.

“Tiger’s the best player of all time, in my opinion, so when he’s not in the field, it’s a relief because he’s such a great player,” he said. “I certainly don’t want him to miss cuts, but when he’s not lurking on Saturdays and Sundays, it makes it a little easier, I think, for other guys.”

Perhaps this is where the absence of Woods and Mickelson will have its greatest impact. Even if other players aren’t thinking about them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t happy to have 'em out of the way, free and clear to continue making a name for themselves without the intrusion of a pair of Hall of Fame players.

As we witnessed Saturday, the show must go on.