For three days Webb Simpson had no mercy on the world’s best players.
He was so good for 54-holes at The Players Championship that he basically lapped the field, rolling up a lead that made history.
Jason Day put it best:
“I would like to play the golf course he’s playing. He’s clearly playing some tremendous golf and we’re the best players in the world and he’s making us look not so good.”
What Simpson did was school them all to the tune of seven shots. That was his margin going into Sunday at the unpredictable Stadium Course.
While he was infallible for 54 holes, over the final 18, he was just good enough.
The little guy who hadn’t won in nearly five years did what you’re supposed to do with a seven-shot lead.
He basically parred them to death, looking more than nervous in the process.
“It was tough — being in that position was a lot tougher than I thought,” Simpson confessed after a final round 73 proved good enough to keep everyone, Tiger Woods included, at a comfortable distance in his rear view mirror.
This makes five wins for Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open is in that bunch. He needed that experience over the final 18. By the turn, his seven shot lead was down to five.
A bogey at the 10th cut it to four, with a bunch of guys, including Woods, breathing down his neck.
Holy Greg Norman!
Then came a life-saving birdie at the 11th, then four straight hard-earned pars.
“The middle part of that round was big, especially the birdie at 11. I was just playing smart.”
He looked really smart with another birdie at the 16th — breathing room.
Then came dry land at the nasty 17th, the same hole that turned his possible 61 into 63 on Friday.
“You don’t feel relaxed until the ball is on land at 17,” Simpson testified.
Maybe he relaxed a bit too much because his approach to 18 found the water left.
Didn’t matter much. By then the lead was six and it didn’t matter that he finished with a double-bogey six.
He basically crossed the finish line when his tee shot found the fairway.
So it was a four-shot win instead of six.
He left Charl Schwartzel, Xander Schauffele and Jimmy Walker happy to finish second, four back of that 18-under whirlwind excursion by Simpson.
Simpson’s good friend and caddie, Paul Tesori was breathing hard afterward.
“It felt really difficult out there,” Tesori said after his man won the big one and the $1.98 million that goes with it. “This was really hard. Walking down 13 I’m exhausted and it’s only the 13th hole.”
Tesori knows what Simpson’s been through. “It was two-and-a-half years of miserable putting,” was how he described Simpson after the anchoring ban of 2016. It was at this event last year that Tim Clark, with Tesori encouraging Webb, to try putting with the putter up against his left forearm and a paint-brush grip with his right hand.
“It was a year ago that I got that lesson,” Simpson recalled.
It was the missing piece of his game.
“I feel like it’s my first win,” Simpson said, growing emotional, reminding that he was thinking about his father, who passed away last November.
“I never doubted myself but at the same time, that’s a long time (without winning).”
“I’m so happy.”
“I’m glad I could do it for mom, who was back home (in Raleigh). She’s been praying for me.”
Those prayers were answered.
In a big way.