LAS VEGAS – Webb Simpson and Chesson Hadley hugged as they passed each other in the interview room at TPC Summerlin early Saturday evening. They first met in high school. The two Raleigh, N.C., natives will see each other again in Sunday’s final pairing at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Simpson will take a four-shot lead into the final round at TPC Summerlin as he seeks his fourth PGA TOUR victory and first since the 2012 U.S. Open. He shot 67 on Saturday to finish at 19-under 194 (64-63-67). Hadley is 15 under after a third-round 67 that included an eagle on the par-5 16th after he holed out from 98 yards.
“Good job, Big Show,” Hadley said as he exited the podium to make way for the tournament leader. Simpson said he’d never heard that nickname. “I like it, though,” he added.
They’ll tee off at 12:45 p.m. Sunday. At TPC Summerlin – where a course-record 60 was shot earlier this week – Simpson may have to withstand a charge not just from his close friend, but someone back in the pack.
“The key tomorrow is to … stay patient again, in case I do get off to another slow start,” Simpson said. “But this is a golf course where guys can shoot 8, 9, 10, 11 under. So I have to go out with a mindset of attacking.”
Hadley still speaks with reverence when he discusses his friend. That could be a hindrance as Hadley finds himself in a position he’s never experienced on the PGA TOUR.
“I’m probably going to be more nervous playing with him tomorrow than I am anything else,” Hadley, 26, said. “Webb and I grew up playing together. He’s always been more successful earlier than I have been.”
They share a birthplace, but their careers cannot be compared. Simpson, two years Hadley’s elder, is a major winner and participant in the Ryder and Presidents cups. Hadley is playing just his second event as a PGA TOUR member. Hadley was competing in the Web.com Tour Finals while Simpson was playing the FedExCup Playoffs, where he qualified for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola for the third consecutive year.
Hadley turned pro in 2010 but played the mini-tours until earning Web.com Tour status at last year’s q-school. Simpson, meanwhile, made it through q-school in his first attempt in 2008.
Hadley earned his first TOUR card after a successful Web.com Tour campaign. He earned the most combined money in the Web.com Tour's Regular Season and Finals, finishing third on the Regular Season money list and earning the second-most money in the Web.com Tour Finals. He won twice on the Web.com Tour in 2013, including the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.
He’s hit 44 of 54 greens this week. His only over-par score Saturday came at the par-4 third hole, which he has played 4 over in three rounds. Hadley described Simpson as a “strong role model.”
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open became a 72-hole event held solely at TPC Summerlin in 2008. The winning score has been at least 20 under par in four of those five years. Simpson almost broke that threshold after three rounds. He’s within reach of the tournament record of 24-under 260, which Ryan Moore set last year.
This tournament is a foil to the tournament Simpson won for his last victory. The U.S. Open demands players to grind out pars. Pars will only get a player passed at TPC Summerlin.
"I think the one synonymous thing is patience, because the U.S. Open you obviously have to remain patient because you're not going to make many birdies," said Simpson, who’s making his first appearance at this tournament since finishing T-4 in 2010. "But here it's not like every hole is a birdie hole so you have to remain patient because birdie runs come. You have to stay patient because you'll get on those runs too."
Simpson has separated himself from the field as he seeks to win in a third consecutive calendar year. Jeff Overton is in third place at 14 under par, while Jason Bohn is another shot back. They’ll play in the second-to-last group. There are six players tied for fifth, seven shots behind Simpson.
Simpson started the day with a four-shot lead. He made bogey on the third hole, then birdied the next two to shoot 1-under 34 on the front nine. He made bogey at the 11th hole before making birdie on four of the next five holes to reach 19 under par. He chipped within inches on the final hole to save par from right of the green and preserve his four-shot lead.
Simpson has hit 47 of 54 greens this week, third-best in the field. He’s averaging 1.62 putts per green hit in regulation, sixth best in the field. His closest competitor will also be his close friend.
“I didn’t look at any leaderboards until I got done with 18 and saw Chesson played well,” Simpson said. “He’s a good friend. We know a lot of the same people, so I was happy to see I get to play with him tomorrow.”