By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Hard to decide which was more impressive: the 64 that Webb Simpson shot in the second round of the PGA Championship or the fact that's he's in contention after shooting 5 over on his first eight holes Thursday.
Simpson went on to shoot 40 on the front nine in the first round but has reeled off red-hot 32s on his next three nines. So suddenly he's 4 under for the tournament and five strokes off the pace being set by Jason Dufner.
"I thank the Lord for giving me patience yesterday; at 5 over through eight holes it was a pretty low moment for me," Simpson said. "But I kind of had a pep talk with myself on the seventh green, and just told myself, one hole at a time and tried to get a birdie here, a birdie there, and somehow played the last ten or 11 holes under par.
"I was able to do that, and I birdied 18 yesterday, which was huge for my confidence. Two over felt like 64 yesterday after being 5 over. So extremely happy with my game today. All around, it was really solid. I made some great putts, made some good par putts to kind of keep the momentum going."
Simpson started on the back nine Friday and set the tone for the day early with birdie putts of 2 and 15 feet on his first two holes. He chipped to 6 feet for another birdie at the par-5 14th before making consecutive birdies twice on the front nine on putts of 10, 12, 35 and 10 feet.
Once Simpson birdied the sixth hole, he started thinking about the major-championship record of 63. Oak Hill is a par 70, so all he needed was to par in to tie it and one birdie to break it.
Instead, Simpson hit a tree trying to cut his approach to the green at the seventh hole, a 461-yard, par 4, and went on to make bogey. A pair of pars sealed his share of the course record, shot first by Ben Hogan at the 1942 Rochester Open and matched by Curtis Strange at the 1989 U.S. Open.
Of course, Simpson's course record was short-lived. About three hours after Simpson finished, Dufner became the 26th man to shoot 63 in a major championship -- and he left a 15-footer for 62 short on the 18th green.
"I was thinking about it, once I birdied 6, I was thinking about the all time major record, and I was about 99 percent sure it was 63," Simpson said. "It's so hard, because on one hand, you want to go for it. You want go for the record. But you can't do that on a golf course this hard and I wasn't doing that at any point today. I was trying to be patient and trying to be conservative.
"So it's that balance of, how much do you go for it and how much do you continue to do what you're doing. I tried to continue just my same routine and my same thoughts. On 8, I thought I made the birdie putt but it just came up short, and I hit a poor iron shot on 9. So I was thinking about it."
Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open said he felt certain that his wing man, caddy Paul Tesori, was was thinking about their shot at history, too.
"I didn't want to talk about it because I thought it would be the wrong thing to focus oncoming in," SImpson said. "You know, this game is so funny, when you try to make birdies, it seems like you don't. It was there. It's like the elephant in the room."
Tesori often tells Simpson he needs to get more comfortable shooting low numbers, so he's hoping to be the exception not the rule when people say that it's hard to follow up a low round with another. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, though, Simpson was pleased to have a piece of Oak Hill history -- even if it was only for a little while.
"Any time you can put your name near Ben Hogan, it's a great thing," he said. "So it will go down as one of my most special rounds ever."