By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The final pairing of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia tees off at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday. Here's a closer look at each of them, plus who and what else to watch for this afternoon at TPC Sawgrass.
Webb Simpson (1:30 p.m. ET): The reigning U.S. Open champion seemed to turn the corner at Hilton Head, where he finished second after losing in a playoff. This week, he's third in fairways hit and enters Saturday five back.
Jason Dufner (1:30 p..m ET): He had six birdies and just one bogey in the second round and is one of the best ball-strikers in the game. He also finished sixth here two years ago.
Zach Johnson (1:50 p.m. ET): The last four finishes for Johnson here: T32, T22, T12, T2. See the trend? A couple late bogeys on Friday hurt, but Johnson is still in the mix four back.
Adam Scott (1:50 p.m. ET): Playing for the first time since his Masters victory, Scott is in position to go after his second PLAYERS title (he won here in 2004). He's just four shots back.
Hunter Mahan (2 p.m. ET): After struggling in his last few starts, Mahan has turned it around here, hitting 75 percent of his greens in regulation.
Matt Kuchar (2 p.m. ET): No player has ever won this tournament two years in a row. After a 66 Friday, Kuchar has a chance and enters the third round just four shots back.
Ryan Palmer (2:20 p.m. ET): The Texan is playing with a heavy heart after a longtime friend was killed in a car accident Thursday night. He's wearing the initials "CA" on his hat in honor of him.
Henrik Stenson (2:20 p.m. ET): The 2009 champion is in contention again after making two eagles in the second round (on the par-5 second and ninth holes). When he won here four years ago, he shot a final-round 66.
Lee Westwood (2:30 p.m. ET): The Englishman has finished fourth, fifth and sixth here. All that's missing is a win. He's the only player without a bogey through the first two rounds.
Tiger Woods (2:40 p.m. ET): It's been a dozen years since Woods has won here, but he said all facets of his game are clicking right now and it's showed so far with his best 36-hole start in his history here.
Sergio Garcia (2:40 p.m. ET): Like Woods, Garcia has won here before (in 2008), but he's struggled at times playing alongside the world No. 1 with five his last six rounds in the 70s when the two have been paired.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Webb Simpson's wife Dowd was listening to her husband lament his lack of success on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Simpson, who grew up playing a Pete Dye golf course like the Stadium, had made four previous PLAYERS Championship starts, playing a total of 10 rounds and making just one cut. He's never broken 70 here, either, and he has a hard time pinpointing what's held him back because he says the course fits his eye.
"It was a golf course that I've always loved; I've just never played well," Simpson said. "... At the beginning of the week my wife was telling me that she thinks I have nothing to lose. It's not like I built up any pressure on myself to play well here.
"So that's what I did here today, and it feels great to finally breakthrough with a good round here."
That good round was a bogey-free 67 that left Simpson tied for fourth, four strokes off the pace set by the red-hot Roberto Castro, who shot 9 under in the morning before the the wind picked up. Also shooting 67s were Casey Wittenberg, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Ryan Palmer and Tiger Woods.
"It was playing a lot harder with the wind and the greens drying out," Simpson said. "But the scores were so good in the morning I knew I had to go out and try to make as many birdies as I could to save the golf tournament."
Simpson, who says he has a "special place" in his heart for Pete Dye, lost a playoff on one of the legendary designer's courses three weeks ago. Graeme McDowell beat him on the first extra hole but that runner-up finish was his third of the season, and Simpson knew his game was headed in the right direction.
"My confidence is high," Simpson said. "... It was there for the taking I felt like. It was just up to myself to try to get out of the way and try to just put together a round knowing that I've been working hard and working on the right stuff, and, fortunately, that's what happened."
Simpson was solid tee-to-green, hitting 11 fairways and 14 greens in regulation. He also had 27 putts, including seven one-putts on the front nine where he made four birdies.
"I think you've got to be patient and be smart," Simpson said when asked about his strategy. "You look at the guys that have won, and they're the guys that are on the fairway. Today fortunately for me everything was working well, but I think the most important thing was getting the ball on the fairway."
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- No one has ever successfully defended at THE PLAYERS Championship, where Matt Kuchar will begin his quest to become the first to do so this afternoon.
With pristine conditions -- sunny skies, hardly a breath of wind -- scoring has been good so far in the opening round at TPC Sawgrass. Will it continue? Here is a look at who and what to watch for this afternoon.
Lee Westwood (1:18 p.m. ET): The Englishman has knocked on the door a few times here -- most recently in 2010 when he was in contention going into Sunday before shooting 74 to finish fourth. He also finished fifth and sixth in 1998 and 1999 and given his ball-striking abilities should be a factor again.
Phil Mickelson (1:28 p.m. ET): As difficult as this tournament -- or Mickelson -- is to predict, Lefty has been largely consistent if nothing else since his win here in 2007. He's finished in the top 25 every other year the last five and for his career has eight top 25s in the event.
Webb Simpson (1:28 p.m. ET): The reigning U.S. Open champion admitted to a lack of confidence earlier this season. Then he finished second at Hilton Head, where he lost in a playoff. He's missed three of four cuts here, however.
Sergio Garcia (1:39 p.m. ET): The 2008 champion (he also finished second the year before) has just one finish in the top 20 since, but he has played well this year with three top 10s. His ball-striking should work well here, but with Garcia it all comes down to how well he putts.
Luke Donald (1:39 p.m. ET): The former world No. 1 finished sixth last year and tied for fourth the year before with all of last last eight rounds and 11 of his last 12 on the Stadium Course at par or better.
Tiger Woods (1:49 p.m. ET): For all his accomplishments, Woods has won THE PLAYERS just once, in 2001. Though he has three wins this season, he has just one top 10 here since that lone victory a dozen years ago.
Matt Kuchar (1:49 p.m. ET):The defending champion has finished in the top 15 in three of the last four years and in 2004 he tied for 16th. This season, Kuchar has four top 10s, including a win.
Brandt Snedeker (1:49 p.m. ET): He was admittedly exhausted after being in contention at the Masters and subsequently missed the cut in Hilton Head. He was also one of the hottest players in the game before getting injured in February. Snedeker has struggled here, missing the cut each of the last four years.
Webb Simpson finished fourth in last year's Wells Fargo Championship.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Webb Simpson's caddy Paul Tesori usually gets the Mercedes-Benz reserved for players competing in the Wells Fargo Championship.
After all, Simpson practically lives within walking distance of the Quail Hollow Club. This week, though, Simpson has pulled rank and taken the courtesy car -- but at least he's loaned Tesori the family wheels.
Of course, a win on Sunday would ensure both get the luxury rides next year since tournament officials reserve one for the winning caddy, as well. And after a fourth-place finish on his home course a year ago and that playoff loss to Graeme McDowell two weeks ago at the RBC Heritage, Simpson feels comfortable and ready to compete.
"I think I'm doing things better now than I did last year," he said. "But this is a funny game, so a lot of times your results won't show what you're actually doing. I came into this tournament last year, and I didn't play great at The Masters, didn't play great at Hilton Head and I had a great week.
"Graham and I both missed the cut by one at Augusta and we got into a playoff. So that's why I try not to look too much into the results because you get a guy who wins one week and misses the cut the next, and it's such a funny game."
Six weeks from now, Simpson will head to Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., to defend his U.S. Open title, the third win of the 27-year-old's career. He admits he signs a few more autographs -- adding that now the fans actually know who he is -- but says that increased recognition is basically the only way his life has changed.
"When it comes to golf, I think it's just made me more confident," Simpson said. "I haven't won since then, but I feel that I'm getting better. That is my goal always, I tell you guys all the time. My favorite thing so far is being announced as the U.S. Open champion. ... So that's been kind of fun to hear."
That said, the U.S. Open title -- or any major, for that matter -- does come with financial opportunities. Simpson said he and his agent looked at how the offers meshed with his brand and tried to balance the commitments with his desire to spend as much time with his wife and two young children as possible. The former Wake Forest All-American also talked with older players about how they handled such success.
"If you win a major, if you play well, if you're top 20 in the world, you have opportunities to do whatever you really want to do around the world," Simpson said. "So it's just a matter of how much am I willing to be away from home? That's kind of how I look at it.
"Lot of guys told me if you're going to travel and do things whether it's tournaments or corporate deals, do it when they're young. They don't really know that you're gone for a week compared to a day, so I'm still learning.
"But I know one thing, I'll never regret in ten years from now not taking a deal when it meant I got to be home with my kids. So that's what I try to remember."
Webb Simpson was sure that his playoff birdie attempt was going to fall, but it didn't. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Webb Simpson was to the right of the 18th green at famed Harbour Town's finishing hole, 34 feet from the hole, the RBC Heritage hanging in the balance.
"I never thought I made a putt more than that birdie putt," Simpson said. "It was in. With a foot to go, it was in the left side."
Only it wasn't.
Even Graeme McDowell thought the putt by Simpson was better than the resulting outcome: A 7-footer coming back to extend the playoff.
Simpson missed the next one, too, and McDowell was winner, having already tapped in for par. Afterward, McDowell told Simpson he hit a better putt than the result showed.
"Coming back, that was a hard putt, because by the grain and the wind it's supposed to break," Simpson said. "But the regulation putt didn't break. So I was kind of stuck with, 'What do I do?' I tried to play it left center. It broke."
And with it went Simpson's best opportunity to win since his U.S. Open victory at The Olympic Club last summer.
Still, it was a step in the right direction for Simpson, who has barely contended anywhere this season.
He arrived at Harbour Town low in confidence. He left feeling positive about where he's headed.
"I just stayed true to the process of what we've been working on," he said. "My wife and I had multiple conversations this week just about my confidence, how I can become more confident as a player."
Only nine months ago, he was on top of the golf world after having won his first career major championship. But managing the whirlwind since hasn't always been easy even if Simpson has tried to make it so.
"I understand how some guys it puts pressure on them," he said. "But I try never to do that to myself. One of my friends, (author) Eric Metaxas said when he wrote his big book Bonhoeffer he didn't feel like he was a better writer, but all of a sudden he's world famous.
"I kind of felt that way at the U.S. Open. I won a major, but it didn't change me that much as a player."
On a windswept day at Harbour Town, it was the closest Simpson looked to the player he was when he won last summer.
Despite three bogeys in the middle of his final-round 71, Simpson also made three birdies, including one on the difficult 12th, where he stuck his approach to 5 feet.
Only 20 players were at par or better amid sustained winds of 20-25 mph and gusts as high as 40. Simpson was one of them.
"My caddie and I called 18 holes today 18 acts, as if we were in a play, just because you really cannot think ahead out there," he said. "It's as hard as we'll ever play."
The wind affected putts, too.
A few times Simpson had to step away from his ball. Once it even moved as he stood over it on the green. A change in the rules, however, didn't lead to a penalty, unlike in New Orleans last year when he was penalized for the same thing.
On Simpson's final putt, it sailed past the right side, getting caught in the wind, he said.
"It was tough," Simpson said. "Putting is so hard because you've got to play, break, grain, wind."
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- On a day when more players shot in the 80s than in the 60s, a player who grew up playing in the wind in Northern Ireland stood alone Sunday at the RBC Heritage.
Graeme McDowell beat Webb Simpson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff between former U.S. Open champions at Harbour Town.
After McDowell bogeyed the final hole of regulation to let Simpson back in the picture, he made par on the same hole to defeat Simpson, who ran his 6-foot putt past.
The win is the first of the season for McDowell, who moves from 50th to sixth in the FedExCup standings, his highest ranking since January 2011.
Through the first 17 holes, it looked like there wouldn't be a need for a playoff.
Despite Harbour Town playing nearly three strokes over par on a windswept afternoon along Calibogue Sound, McDowell was flawless, making three birides and no bogeys to reach 10 under and a one-shot lead with one hole to play.
But McDowell's approach to the difficult 18th was slightly long, leaving him 44 feet to the hole.
The 2010 U.S. Open winner ran his first putt 12 feet by and missed the par save coming back.
That kept Simpson's hopes alive.
Playing two groups behind McDowell in the day's final pairing and standing on the tee, Simpson split the fairway and hit his approach to 20 feet.
His birdie attempt came up just short and he tapped in to force a playoff.
Both men found the fairway in the playoff, but Simpson missed the green right on his approach, while McDowell left himself 12 feet from underneath the hole.
Using his putter, Simpson nearly holed his next shot before the ball tumbled 6 feet past.
"I never thought a putt was in more than that one," Simpson said. "With a foot to go it was in."
McDowell's birdie try came up just short of the hole, leaving Simpson a chance to extend the playoff.
Simpson missed the putt, however, running it by the right edge.
In the final round of the 2013 RBC Heritage, the wind causes Webb Simpson’s ball to move as he is preparing to putt on the par-4 sixth hole. A rule change, however, meant there was no penalty on Simpson, who is trying to win for the first time since last year's U.S. Open.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Webb Simpson shot his lowest career score at Harbour Town on Saturday, a 6-under 65 that his him two shots off the lead.
Now he'll try to win for the first time since last year's U.S. Open.
"It's all in my swing," Simpson said. "We've been working on the same thing all year. We knew where we wanted to get, we just didn't know how to work on it. Once we found out how to work on it, everything clicked."
Simpson made seven birdies and no bogeys Saturday, hitting 15 greens in the process.
Given the tight confines at Harbour Town, the latter was especially important for Simpson, who took advantage of a soft golf course after more than an inch of rain fell overnight.
He didn't waste any time getting started.
Simpson made three birdies in his first six holes. He made two more on Nos. 10 and 11, then had critical par saves from the sand on each of his next two holes to stay within reach of leader Charley Hoffman.
"I think that's the beauty of this golf course is on paper and even to the eye it seems pretty easy," Simpson said. "But the greens are so small that it's hard sometimes to get it near the pin, especially with the trees overhanging by the green.
"I've always loved coming here; it looks good to my eye. But I never have quite gotten it going like I did today."
Check out the shots of the week from the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank and the Toshiba Classic, featuring Luke Donald, Mark O'Meara, Dicky Pride, Kevin Streelman and Webb Simpson.