A Decisive PLAYERS
After the third round of the 2018 PLAYERS Championship, the leaderboard was filled with the game’s biggest stars.
Americans, Harold Varner, Patrick Cantlay and Matt Kuchar, Englishmen, Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood were all tied at 8-under par with Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.
Spieth who is winless so far in 2018 and is coming off three consecutive missed cuts at the PLAYERS, shot a career best 7-under, 65 to be on the periphery of contention. Normally an other-worldly putter, the 24-year old former #1 has not been his brilliant self on the greens yet, but has still managed 4 Top 10 finishes in ten starts.
Woods barely made the 36-hole cut right on the number at 1-under par, but he would shoot his career low round on Pete Dye’s Stadium course of 65. The TPC is not Tiger’s favorite venue, but he has been a winner twice in 2001 and 2003. But the Big Cat looks like he is finally all the way back from all the surgeries and adversity of the last 5 years with his most recent comeback. He has two Top 5 finishes and a tie for 12th in only 8 starts, and while those are modest successes from the Woods we once knew, they are most assuredly a signal that he will win again. Woods remains 4 wins behind Sam Snead with 79 career victories and 4 Majors short of Jack Nicklaus’, 18. We think that he’ll eclipse Snead but not Nicklaus.
A quartet of former Major winners, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day were in a tie for 4th with Xander Schauffele at 9-under. Day is enjoying a bounce back year after a disappointing 2017 that saw him winless on Tour and all the way down to 46th in the World Golf rankings. With wins in the Farmers and Wells Fargo Championships though the 30-year old former #1 has moved back up to #7.
One stroke ahead of those players was current world #1, Dustin Johnson, who has also had little success at the PGA Tour’s marquee event but three consistent rounds had put him into position for his best finish at a PLAYERS. 27-year old New Zealander, Danny Lee, was two shots better than Johnson at 12-under par and in second place by himself.
But they were all chasing the wind. Webb Simpson was making the PLAYERS his own private event. After an opening round 67, the 32-year old Carolinian toyed with the Stadium course on the second day, shooting a 63 that would have been much lower except for a double-bogey 5 on the 17th. Simpson took his tournament record 5 shot lead at the beginning of the third round and expanded his advantage to 7 after shooting a carefully managed 3-under, 69.
The PLAYERS belonged to Simpson but if ever there was a venue where a massive lead like that can vanish, it’s here in Ponte Vedra because of the hurly-burly swings that the course creates. But Simpson, a 4-time Tour winner, has had his mettle tested in the most pressure filled arenas, having won the 2012 U.S. Open with a thrilling 1 shot win over Graeme McDowell https://www.birdgolf.com/what-a-tangled-webb-we-weave/ .
Front 9 charges on Sunday by Day who was 4 under after his first 7 holes and Woods who was a torrid 6-under through 12 holes, would ultimately fall short. Day’s final round 68 left him in a tie for 4th at 13-under while Woods’ charge stalled and his 69 saw him tied for 11th.
Schauffele, Walker and Schwartzel all closed with 67’s, leaving them 14-under for the week and sharing second place.
This week belonged to Simpson however, as he was smartly steady and his 73 was a textbook example of how to play with a 7 shot lead (easier said than done) and a four stroke margin. The Wake Forest graduate has been a consistent winner since joining the Tour seven years ago, but he had gone 107 starts since his last win at the Shriners Open in 2013.
Simpson is also one of the players affected by the 2016 ban on “anchoring” (he grew up playing with a long putter) long putters https://www.birdgolf.com/anchors-aweigh/ , and his resilience and determination to develop a new method is a testament to his grit and character. This decisive victory on one of the game’s biggest stages furthers his cause to be considered as an elite player.