USA TODAY US Edition
Simpson conceding nothing, shoots 66
Webb Simpson, 35, isn’t conceding anything at the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship.
The 2012 U.S. Open champion carded seven birdies, including three in a row over the final four holes, to shoot an opening-round 6-under-par 66 Thursday at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.
The field of 72 at this week’s World Golf Championships event relocated from Mexico to Florida due to the global pandemic. The layout, co-designed by World Golf Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, is named in tribute to one of the game’s most famous sportsmanlike gestures. At the 1969 Ryder Cup, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s marker to concede an 18-inch putt at the last hole with their match on the line. The result meant the biennial competition between the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland (at the time) ended in a tie with the U.S. retaining the Cup.
When Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was asked what current U.S. player would be most likely to follow in the footsteps of Nicklaus and his magnanimous gesture, he didn’t have to think long before responding: “Most likely, Webb Simpson.”
On Thursday, Simpson continued to play his brand of precision golf that has lifted him to No. 9 in the world. Simpson was deadly as usual in his approach game. He ranked fourth in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and third in Strokes Gained: Approach to the Green.
“The course is fantastic. It’s firm. I was hoping it would get firm and fast. It takes that lengthy scorecard down a little bit. Very pleased with the start,” he said. Simpson didn’t see the golf course until Tuesday.
“We were a little slow in our practice rounds, there was more to talk about, more conversation. We do have a system of how we plot golf courses and so we still did that the same way we always do, we just took our time a little more and tried to be a little more observant on the greens and around the greens,” Simpson said.
He made three birdies on the front nine and his lone bogey, at the par-4 fifth. After a birdie at the 10th, Simpson heated up late, sticking a wedge inside 3 feet at 15 for birdie, sinking a 32-foot birdie putt at 16, and getting down in two putts from 47 feet at the par-5 17th for one more circle on the card.
Simpson was tied for the lead with Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick and one stroke better than Brooks Koepka, Billy Horschel, Sergio Garica and Kevin Kisner.
Simpson has complained that a tough winter at home in Charlotte, North Carolina, has made it difficult to practice outdoors. After skipping the last two tournaments he was able to put in the necessary work and it made all the difference.
Simpson’s game has been sharp enough to make 13 cuts in a row, including five top-10s in that stretch. The only thing to slow him down a bit was testing positive for COVID-19 late last year.
COVID-19 did force him to make one concession, the joy of his morning Joe. “I just missed being able to smell and taste my coffee in the morning,” he said.