By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Both Webb Simpson and Bill Haas played at Wake Forest but they missed being teammates by a year.
Once Simpson got out on the PGA TOUR, though, Haas became quite an ally and a good friend. They've played practice rounds together and talked strategy on the course. He's given Simpson the skinny on hotels, airports and restaurants. too.
"All those things that a rookie needs to figure out, he was there for me," Simpson said. "He's one of those guys that I feel like when I do play well, he's really happy for me. It's pretty competitive out here. (He) just compliments me a lot, so I think just shows what kind of person he is."
On Sunday at Riviera, the two play together once again -- only this time Haas and Simpson will tee it up in the final group with the Northern Trust Open title on the line.
Haas has the edge after building a three-stroke lead with a third-round 64 that Simpson deemed "incredible" given the firm and fast conditions. Simpson is tied for second with Charl Schwartzel and John Merrick at 9 under after shooting a 68.
"How will it affect me?" Simpson said. "I mean, I play with my friends all the time out here so I don't think it will affect me one way or the other. I love playing with guys that I can have conversations with and have a good time. So it will be fun."
Simpson likened the conditions on the back nine Saturday to a U.S. Open, and he knows better than most after winning last year's national championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. He says Riviera's undulating greens are particularly challenging and the key Sunday will be leaving the ball on the right spots on the putting surfaces.
"Certain courses, you have a 20-footer, you're trying to make it," Simpson said. "Out here, it's more I'm trying to leave it around the hole and if it goes in, it goes in. This poa annua, it gets a little bumpy late in the day. You have to do a good job of putting it in the fairway and your approach shots of keeping it under the hole."
Simpson says the man he calls his "big brother" is certainly in the driver's seat as the final round begins under what's expected to be sunny skies and cooler temperatures falling about 15 degrees back in the mid-60s. But Haas showed everyone a low round is out there so Simpson knows there's hope.
"Whoever is going to win the golf tournament tomorrow is going to go out and play a really good, solid round," he said. "It is going to be a little more difficult for the guys behind Bill to make a charge and try to play aggressively with how firm everything is. ...
"I think Bill is in a position, if he keeps a three-shot lead and goes and plays well again, it's going to be hard to catch him. But with the golf course this tricky, and you get a guy that has a good front nine, I mean, he could be tied or even in the lead with nine to go. So I think anything can happen tomorrow."