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September 6 2012

10:25 PM

Van Pelt, Simpson feed off each other

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Webb Simpson (left) and Bo Van Pelt fired 64s on Thursday to grab shares of the lead at the BMW Championship.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

CARMEL, Ind. -- Webb Simpson knows the emotions Bo Van Pelt is feeling this week.

The BMW Championship is a home game for Van Pelt, who grew up a little over an hour away from Crooked Stick. He's had to wait a long time to play professionally in front of his fellow Hoosiers -- the last time the PGA TOUR's best played in Indiana was at the 1991 PGA Championship.

Van Pelt was 16 that year -- "I was stealing practice balls off the range and trying to avoid the lightning," he recalled -- when he drove over to Crooked Stick to watch John Daly win. Simpson had a similar experience, caddying as a teenager during the pro-am at the Wyndham Championship, played about 90 minutes from his childhood home in Raleigh, N.C.

The two played together on Thursday at the BMW Championship and fired matching 64s that gave them a share of the first-round lead with Rory McIlroy and Graham DeLaet. Van Pelt made a 21-inch birdie putt on the 18th hole to pull into the tie while Simpson came up with a 5-footer to save par.

"It's a big deal for me," Van Pelt said. "I want to play well." 

Simpson certainly couldn't ignore the ovation Van Pelt received on the first tee Thursday morning. 

"I didn't realize he was from here until the first tee when I heard all the people erupt,'” Simpson said. “But it was fun playing with him. I get two home events myself, and I know what it feels like to play well. He had a great day."

Simpson actually got his breakthrough PGA TOUR victory at the 2011 Wyndham Championship. And he finished one shot shy of a playoff this year at the other home game, the Wells Fargo Championship, where he lives a mile away from the host course.

Van Pelt, who won the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, would like nothing better than to follow in Simpson's footsteps, too. He said he didn't feel any added pressure when he teed off in the first round, though.

"I've been doing this a long time and obviously was excited to play in front of my home state and a lot of friends and family and obviously wanted to do well, but I definitely wouldn't call it nerves, just more excitement," Van Pelt said. "I was ready to get going."

He birdied his first two holes to get headed in the right direction. Van Pelt went on to turn in 31 and added three more birdies on the back nine. He hit 11 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and took 26 putts.

"Stay aggressive -- that's just what I kept telling myself as I was making birdies early, just to keep going, because I knew if it seemed like it was playing easy for me, it was probably playing easy for anybody," Van Pelt said.

"I was a little disappointed in 13 through 15. I had three really good looks there inside 10 feet and didn't make any of them. It's something I've been trying to work on when I've been playing well is to take advantage of my opportunities. I was upset that I didn't make any of those three, but it was nice to finish with a birdie.

Simpson, on the other hand, made his move on the back nine where he shot 31. The reigning U.S. Open champ said playing with Van Pelt and, for that matter, Jim Furyk, who opened with three straight birdies on the way to a round of 69, was a positive.

"When you watch a guy who's making putts and playing well, it kind of lets you see that it's gettable out there," Simpson said.

Simpson also managed to tour Crooked Stick without a bogey. He hit 12 fairways, 11 greens in regulation and used just 22 putts -- one-putting six of his last seven holes and the seventh from the fringe.

"Good, solid golf, no bogeys, which I'm always excited about," Simpson said. "Got the putter going, made a lot of putts on the back nine, and it was good to get up and down for par on the last after not making any bogeys. I didn't want to end with a bogey, so it was a great start and in good position."

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