Tee to Green: Simpson scorches Oak Hill
Philadelphia, PA – It takes a skillful hand to start a fire in the rain.
There have been several memorable rounds on tour this season, with Phil Mickelson's 66 at Muirfield and Tiger's 61 at last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational being the most recent examples. And let's not forget Lefty's 60 at the Phoenix Open in January, where he was a horse-shoed putt away from golf's magic number.
On Friday, Webb Simpson joined the conversation at rainy Oak Hill, firing a course record-tying 64. He equaled the mark set World Golf Hall of Famers Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange, moving into contention at the PGA Championship in the process.
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champ, was 5-over through nine first-round holes before playing his next 24 at 10-under-par. He played his inward nine at minus-3 on Thursday, then carried that momentum into the second round, going 7-under over his first 15 holes and taking legitimate aim at the first 62 in major championship history.
Needing one birdie of his final three holes to achieve the feat, Simpson instead bogeyed the seventh (his 16th), then parred the last two and settled for a share of the course record. (The lowest round in a major championship remains 63, accomplished 25 times, most recently by Steve Stricker at the 2011 PGA Championship.)
"I had no idea what the course record was," Simpson admitted. "But you know, any time you can put your name near Ben Hogan, it's a great thing. So it will go down as one of my most special rounds ever. I don't think not tying the major record takes away from the fact that, you know, I was able to tie this course record. It was just fun; fun to experience something like that."
Simpson might have actually set Oak Hill on fire if someone hadn't turned on the sprinklers, soaking the course with steady rain for the better part of two days.
"In terms of your swing, because you have so much to deal with towels and wet gloves and wet grips, it's a lot harder work," Simpson explained. "But at the same time, it softened the greens up enough to where our approach shots, we could be more aggressive."
Simpson attacked the pins on Friday, leaving himself a number of makeable putts, and he wasn't the only one, as birdies were aplenty in the early going. Indeed, Oak Hill has been amenable thus far, but that doesn't diminish Simpson's achievement, which was made all the more special given the major championship stage.
Of course, Mickelson's 66 at the British Open takes top billing for performances in a major this season. That sparkling performance came in the final round and gave the left-hander his first-ever win at the event.
It is safe to say Simpson's 64 won't prove as decisive.
Woods' 61 at the Bridgestone Invitational was also instrumental, as it handed the world No. 1 an insurmountable 7-stroke lead entering the weekend. The same goes for Phil's 60 way back in January, as he rode that first-round performance to a wire-to-wire win.
Due in part to his slow start on Thursday, Simpson still finds himself three strokes behind clubhouse leader Adam Scott at 4-under.
"I wanted to get mad. Wanted to throw clubs and do all that, but it wasn't going to help anything," he said of his outward nine on Thursday.
Instead, Simpson steadied himself, firing one of the best rounds of the season and putting himself within striking distance of his first victory since becoming a major champion at the 2012 U.S. Open.
"At 5-over through eight holes it was a pretty low moment for me. But I kind of had a pep talk with myself on the seventh green, and you know, just told myself, one hole at a time and tried to get a birdie here, a birdie there ...
"It's amazing how a day like today, you go from outside the cut line to just in to going for the all-time major record. It's a big swing of emotions."