LAS VEGAS – The Shriners Hopsitals for Children Open, where low scores are mandatory, won’t be confused for the U.S. Open. Webb Simpson’s win here was important, though. He was seeking his first title since winning his national championship some 16 months ago, and started the final round at TPC Summerlin with a large lead that required nothing less than victory.
Simpson had failed to win the last two times he held the 54-hole lead, shooting over par both times. There were no stumbles at TPC Summerlin, though.
He shot a final-round 66 to win by six shots over Ryo Ishikawa and Jason Bohn. His 24-under 260 (64-63-67-66) tied the tournament record and earned him 500 FedExCup points in his first start of the 2013-14 season. Simpson has won in three consecutive calendar years; he was winless in the abbreviated 2013 season, though, after winning in the previous two.
“It was a little frustrating,” said Simpson, who still qualified for his third consecutive TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in 2013 and played in The Presidents Cup. “My main goal every year is to get better. I thought I was getting better; I just wasn’t in contention enough. I never really doubted anything. I just thought it was a matter of time before it happened.”
Simpson, 28, now has the third-most wins among players currently in their 20s, trailing only Dustin Johnson (seven) and Rory McIlroy (six).
He started Sunday with a four-shot lead. He was six ahead after a bogey-free 32 on the front nine, but his lead was down to three shots after a three-putt bogey on the 12th hole and Bohn’s birdies at 11 and 12. Simpson birdied three of the next four holes, though, to remove any drama.
Simpson is known for his success with his belly putter. He earned this title with his ball striking, though. He hit 62 of 72 greens, second-best in the field, and was 13th in driving accuracy, hitting 36 of 56 fairways. He missed just three fairways and three greens in the final round.
“I’m so proud of him because he didn’t do it with the putter today,” his caddie, Paul Tesori, said. “He did it with his ball striking. He hit it straight, he had great distance control. It pumps me up more than making everything.”
Simpson called it “my best ball striking tournament yet.”
Simpson had held the 54-hole lead four previous times, but won just once (2011 Wyndham Championship). He last held the lead at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, just weeks after his U.S. Open win. He shot 3-over 73 after starting the final round with a two-shot lead.
“We learned a lot from it. He was too comfortable,” Tesori said. “We almost didn’t have enough tenacity.”
Simpson also had to deal with bad memories from his last appearance at TPC Summerlin. In 2010, he held the lead on the back nine Sunday after birdies at 15 and 16. He hit his tee shot into the water at the par-3 17th, though. His double-bogey there left him one shot out of the playoff Jonathan Byrd won with a walk-off ace.
The Simpson family was confident enough in his chances this time that his wife, Dowd, flew out early Sunday, arriving at TPC Summerlin when Webb was on No. 14.
She just missed seeing his most important shot of the final round. He hit his second shot at the par-5 13th into a fairway bunker, then blasted out to 8 feet. A three-shot lead isn’t safe on TPC Summerlin’s closing stretch, not with the drivable par-4 15th and reachable par-5 16th awaiting. He made his birdie putt at 13 to go four shots ahead.
“I put myself in a tough spot I that bunker,” Simpson said. “Making that putt was huge for me. I feel like if I had missed that one, … it would have been really tough. That was a huge putt, maybe the biggest putt of the day for me.”
There was never any doubt after that. He hit his tee shot to 4 feet at the par-3 14th, but missed the short birdie putt. He made birdie at No. 15 after hitting his 52-yard approach shot within 3 feet, then two-putted for birdie at 16.
Simpson never looked at a leaderboard in the final round, never allowing himself to get complacent with a large lead. He first asked Tesori for a status update on the second-to-last hole. “I asked if I need to know anything,” Simpson said. “He said, ‘No, we’re in control.’”
Simpson’s victory earned him a return to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, where he’s finished third and 11th in two previous appearances. A trip to Maui is one of many perks that comes with a PGA TOUR victory. For Simpson, this win alleviates some of the pressure that comes with being a major champion.
Simpson didn’t want to be perceived as the guy who “popped up for a little while and then (people) didn’t hear from me again.”
He ensured that wouldn’t happen with his impressive performance Sunday at TPC Summerlin.