Good times roll
Clutch putting helps Simpson win in playoff
NORTON - Three weeks ago, Webb Simpson packed his things and left the PGA Championship in Johns Creek, Ga., prematurely, missing the cut by five shots, yet feeling great about his game after a second-round putting discovery, convinced that something big was going to happen, and soon.
He won the next week in his native North Carolina for his first PGA Tour victory, then tied for 10th in the playoff opener in New Jersey. Those were big.
Yesterday was bigger. Given an unexpected second chance that defied the odds, Simpson kept implementing the breakthrough he stumbled upon in the Georgia heat. When he takes his time aiming his trusty belly putter, his golf ball frequently finds the hole.
No better proof of that than at TPC Boston yesterday as the light started to fade, specifically the last eight holes Simpson played. Without the luxury of even an inch of wiggle room - he was the hunter, not the hunted - Simpson took what he’s figured out and began holing putts. Short ones, medium ones, a must-have long one.
He needed only nine putts those last eight holes, including one-putt birdies on both playoff holes. The second, from 9 feet, gave him the
“It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks. I don’t really know what to think right now,’’ Simpson said. “I’m certainly thankful for the chance to win, and having been able to finish the round with a birdie, and then birdie the first two holes in a playoff was truly awesome.’’
Simpson had his chance with a little help from Reavie, who built a two-shot lead when he buried birdie putts of 24 feet on No. 13, 13 feet on No. 14, and 33 feet on the 16th. Simpson cut Reavie’s lead in half when he rolled in a 27-foot birdie on the par-5 18th hole, a stroke that would prove to be monumental a few minutes later.
Needing just a par on the easiest hole at TPC Boston to secure his second tour win, Reavie chose to lay up in front of the hazard with his second shot, leaving himself 117 yards to a hole cut back right. His third shot was pulled slightly and sailed the green, though, and after chipping to 11 feet, he missed the par putt that would have brought victory. It was Reavie’s first and only bogey of the day. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“It’s not hard to make a 5. I mean, I’m going to make a 5 there nine times out of 10,’’ said Reavie, who shot 66 and completed 72 holes at 15 under par 269. “Unfortunately my wedge didn’t work out.’’
Simpson, whose lengthy birdie on the 18th gave him a final-round 65, was asked what he thought the odds were of going to a playoff when Reavie was holding a wedge from the middle of the fairway, leading by one.
“One in 100?’’ Simpson said.
Ah, but postseason pressure pops up when you least - or perhaps most - expect it, always ready and willing to change the direction of the result.
Simpson and Reavie returned to the 18th tee, together this time, and both birdied the first playoff hole. Simpson, after pulling his second shot left of the green, made a 15-footer. Reavie matched him from 3 feet and sent the duo to No. 17. Both found the fairway on the 397-yard par-4, and both placed approach shots on the green, Reavie 25 feet away, Simpson roughly 15 feet closer.
Once Reavie’s birdie putt slid by, Simpson rolled his in, only after making absolutely sure he was aimed correctly. So committed was he to the new process that he backed off a handful of times, including before making his 15-footer on the first playoff hole.
A year ago, Simpson missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and needed two top-12 finishes in the Fall Series just to secure his tour card for 2011. When he wakes up this morning, he’ll be ranked 14th in the world, and will represent his country in November at the Presidents Cup.
“The goal that I set out to accomplish is to be one of the best players in the world, if not the best,’’ Simpson said. “I do feel comfortable near the top, and I want to expect that I can play with the guys who are the best players in the world.’’
The Simpson-Reavie playoff - the first in Deutsche Bank history - came about when a handful of other players who had at least a slice of the lead during the day fell away. Brandt Snedeker (66) had three bogeys in a five-hole stretch on the back nine. Luke Donald (67) and Adam Scott (71) had back-nine double bogeys. All were in front by themselves at some point.
It might have been Reavie’s to win, but he still left town with $864,000 and a guaranteed spot in the playoff-ending Tour Championship, a few days after arriving 87th in the points race, unsure where or when he’d play next. For someone who came here without full playing privileges - he started the year on a medical exemption after knee surgery last year - it’s a result that will bring a lot of perks and positives.
The trophy, though, was going home with Simpson. He and his family - wife Dowd, and young son James - were eager to get back to Charlotte after four straight weeks on the road. What began with failure last month at the PGA Championship has produced two wins and $2,576,000 since then.
Mighty big happenings, indeed.
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.