Webb Simpson ties course record, takes 5-shot lead at Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Webb Simpson didn't miss anything except the island green.
On the verge of shattering the course record Friday at TPC Sawgrass — even a 59 was in play — Simpson hit sand wedge into the water on the notorious par-3 17th and made a double bogey that ruined his round but not his day at The Players Championship. He still tied the record with a 9-under-par 63, and he had a five-shot lead, the largest in the 45 years of this tournament.
“It wasn't a mistake,” Simpson said. “Just the wrong club.”
He was in no mood to let that sour him. Simpson simply couldn't miss, whether it was a 35-foot eagle putt on his second hole or a 30-foot birdie putt up the slope and into the cup on the 15th. At that point, all he could was laugh.
And then he reached the 17th, playing 147 yards to a back pin, the light wind playing tricks with him. He kept backing off, trying to decide between sand wedge and pitching wedge. He said a few fans were telling him to hit it.
The ball hit the wooden frame on the front of the green, caromed high in the air and landed on the back of the green with so much momentum that it rolled through the light collar of rough and disappeared into the water.
“Everything is going in,” he said. “You feel like no matter what, you're going to make it, and I grew up on an easy golf course so it reminded me of being back home, shooting low numbers. But at the same time, you're at the TPC Sawgrass, so you know that trouble is everywhere, as you guys saw with me on 17.”
And it will be there over the next two rounds.
Simpson was the seventh player to shoot 63 on the Stadium Course — five since 2013 — and his 15-under 129 tied the 36-hole record set two years ago by Jason Day.
Charl Schwartzel (66), Patrick Cantlay (68) and Danny Lee (66) were five shots behind.
Tiger Woods at least gets to return on the weekend. He made the cut on the number (1-under 143) after a 71 in the easier morning conditions. Woods was outside the cut line until Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas made bogeys on the 18th.
Spieth three-putted from 35 feet, though he shot 68 and ended three consecutive years missing the cut.
Rory McIlroy wasn't so fortunate. He was inside the cut line until hitting into the water on the 17th and making double bogey.
Conditions were ideal for scoring for the second day in a row. Simpson took that to another level.
He ended the front nine with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth for a one-shot lead, and then he took off. Starting with an up-and-down at the par-5 11th, Simpson ran off six straight birdies — three straight from the 20-foot range, the most unlikely birdie with the one from behind the 15th green.