Charlotte, NC – Webb Simpson birdied two of his final four holes Saturday to jump into first place after three rounds of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Simpson, one of three co-leaders after the first round, carded a three-under 69 and finished 54 holes at 14-under par 202. His strong finish allowed him to emerge from a crowded field and take a one-stroke lead at Quail Hollow, a home course for the North Carolina native and Charlotte resident.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself," Simpson said. "I look at the leaderboard and there's so many great players within a shot or two. So I know it's going to be a tough day."
Ryan Moore (68) and D.A. Points (69) played bogey-free rounds and share second place at 13-under 203.
"As a golfer I'm not very happy with the way I'm putting," Points said. "But if I focus on that instead of focusing on the 69 with no bogeys, my dinner is not going to taste very good, so I'm going to focus on the 69 with no bogeys and be excited about the position I'm in."
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, the 2010 champion, had two bogeys but still managed a six-under 66. That round moved him up nine places into fourth, which he shares with second-round leader Nick Watney (72).
Saturday was a day of fluctuation, with multiple players holding part of the lead, which hovered around 13-under.
Points reached the score early, with birdies at one, six and seven. He parred every other hole during his round, and acted as something of an anchor for the rest of the player movement.
Simpson, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, joined him at 13-under after sinking birdies at three and seven, But a bogey-birdie-bogey stretch from the ninth knocked him back a shot.
McIlroy then joined Points thanks to his run. The Northern Irishman began his round with three consecutive birdies, including a 40-footer. He then birdied the fifth despite finding a greenside bunker, but bogeyed the next hole after blasting his tee shot into the rough.
But McIlroy rebounded with three birdies in four holes around the turn, reaching 12-under in the process, then birdied the par-five 15th.
However, he found trouble at the par-four 16th, where he ripped his tee shot 377 yards and got to the green with his second shot. But after his birdie try lipped out, McIlroy missed his par chance, too. He tapped in for bogey and stood there in apparent frustration.
McIlroy didn't get the stroke back, parring his final two to head into the clubhouse at 12-under.
"I definitely feel like I've left a couple out there," McIlroy said. "The three-putt on 16 was pretty disappointing. You know, a 66 is a good score out there, and I feel like I've got another one of those scores in me, and looking forward to doing that tomorrow."
While McIlroy couldn't stay at minus-13, a multitude of others reached that score to gain a share of first.
Moore had birdied three holes on his front nine to get to 12-under, and was stuck at the score until the par-three 17th, where he knocked his tee shot within five feet and rolled in the birdie chance.
Watney joined Points and Moore at 13-under with a two-putt birdie at 15, which got him back into the lead during an up-and-down day overall. He had two birdies and two bogeys on his front nine, then birdied the 10th before giving a stroke away at the 12th.
Simpson got back to minus-13 around the same time as Watney, thanks to an eight-footer at the 15th -- a hole he called the turning point to his round.
"I hit a bad drive and had a bad lie in the rough and we actually considered laying it up, but it was one of those moments where you've got to take a chance, and it came out perfect," Simpson said.
Stewart Cink used birdies at 14 and 16 to join the fray, but the final few holes decided how the leaderboard looks heading into Sunday. While Moore and Points stayed put at 13-under, Watney and Cink fell back and Simpson kept succeeding.
Simpson, who was playing in the final group with Watney, used a birdie at the 17th to get into first by himself. His tee shot landed within 13 feet, and he drained the mid-range putt.
Cink and Watney, on the other hand, were both undone by the 18th.
Watney found the water with his tee shot and took a penalty stroke on the way to a bogey, which left him at 12-under, two shots off Simpson's lead.
Cink had played the 18th several groups before and struggled even more. He missed a 14-foot par try and needed two more putts to get the ball in the cup. The double-bogey capped a one-under 71 and knocked him back to 11-under, where he joined Rickie Fowler (67) in a tie for sixth.
NOTES: Simpson won both of his PGA Tour titles last year...Geoff Ogilvy carded the lowest score of the round, a seven-under 65. He is tied for eighth at minus-10...Phil Mickelson and world No. 3 Lee Westwood both shot four-under 68 and are tied for 30th at minus-five.