Leaders plan to approach Sunday's finale differently

May 05, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The leader relies on Bible verses to keep him calm when the pressure mounts and the stomach begins to churn. On the other hand, one of his closest competitors will be looking to channel comedian Bill Murray come Sunday.

So for both their sakes, it's probably a good thing Webb Simpson and D.A. Points aren't paired together in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship. Besides, there's no need to focus on one another with that crowded and formidable leaderboard looming large as the last 18 holes unfold.


Simpson, who is a member at Quail Hollow and lives less than a mile away, shot 69 on Saturday to move to 14 under and into a one-stroke lead. Points, who won last year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with Murray at his side, and Ryan Moore are tied for second after rounds of 69 and 68, respectively.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who shot a final-round 62 in 2010 to make the Wellls Fargo Championship his first PGA TOUR victory, is two strokes behind along with Nick Watney, who is staying with Simpson this week and led after two rounds. Watney bogeyed the final hole in a round of 72 while the Northern Irishman, who turned 23 on Friday and got a surprise visit from his parents, surged toward the top of the leaderboard with a 66.

Another 23-year-old in Rickie Fowler, who is starting to look more and more like Captain Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" fame, is also well positioned at 11 under along with the resurgent Stewart Cink. In all, there are nine players in double digits under par and within four shots of the lead in this 10th anniversary and highly-regarded event.

"I look at the leaderboard and there's so many great players within a shot or two," Simpson said. "I know it's going to be a tough day. I know I can go out and shoot 4 under and get beat by two or three. This is one of those golf courses where if conditions are right you can get a string of birdies going. You saw McIlroy a few years ago shoot 10 under. Knowing that my expectations aren't too high.

"Obviously I want to go out there and try to win, but all I can do is kind of control what we're doing."

So far, Simpson and his wing-man, caddy Paul Tesori, have been doing that extremely well as they seek a third victory in just 17 starts dating back to the Wyndham Championship last August. The native North Carolinian and former Wake Forest All-American has handled both the expectations -- his own, as well as those of friends and family -- and the reality of playing the first two rounds with Tiger Woods with considerable outward poise.

That doesn't mean the nerves haven't been bubbling inside but Simpson, a devout Christian, knew exactly what to do. He took out his Bible and turned to Judges, chapters 6 and 7, and studied the story of Gideon, a young man in the tribe of Menessah, who was called by God to help free the people of Israel.

"The picture I look at is that God uses the weak to make his name look great," Simpson said. "Again, I felt pretty weak and helpless the other day with that tee time, being my home crowd, my home course, all the pressure was kind of mounting, and a buddy of mine texted me that story, and truthfully it really calmed me down."

Points, who was one of just four players to post a bogey-free round on Saturday, knows he won't have Murray by his side on Sunday. But he plans to interact with the crowd not unlike the comedian would -- although don't look for him to drag anyone into a bunker or sample fans' adult beverages like Murray does -- and he'll keep his wife and her family well in sight. Anything to help distract himself as Points seeks the second win of his career.

"I gave a lot of high fives and a lot of knuckles today, and I'll do more of the same tomorrow because that's better for me," Points said. "If I start getting down on myself and getting frustrated if I hit a bad shot or miss some putts, it's just going to bury me. That was one thing I did well today."

For McIlroy, it will be business as usual. The world No. 2 has shaved two strokes off his score each day and even after playing just once in the seven weeks leading up to the Wells Fargo Championship, the Northern Irishman seems to be doing everything fairly well. He ranks third in driving distance, sixth in greens in regulation and seventh in strokes gained putting.

"I went out there today with not many expectations," said McIlroy, who birdied his first three holes. "(I) just want to go out and play well and try and improve on my ball striking, and that will be the goal again tomorrow, just try and hit some better shots than I did today."

Should he finish tied for seventh with one player or better, McIlroy will regain the No. 1 ranking he and Luke Donald have been exchanging every time one of them takes a week off. That sets up a showdown with both in attendance next week at THE PLAYERS Championship but first there's work to do at Quail Hollow.

"I'll draw on those good memories and those positive thoughts from a couple years ago," McIlroy said. "I've had some great experiences on this golf course, and hopefully I can create a few more tomorrow."

Fowler got over a big hump on Saturday as he broke 70 in the third round for only the third time this year. The 67 that included seven birdies moved the 23-year-old seven spots up the leaderboard into a tie for sixth. Granted, Fowler averages 71.38 on Sundays to rank 80th on TOUR but Jason Dufner's win last Sunday in New Orleans shows that weekend trends are made to be broken.

"I feel really comfortable here, have had some good finishes," said Fowler, who has been sixth and 16th in his first two starts in Charlotte. "I've put up a lot of good rounds here, and been playing well recently. We've got a pretty packed leaderboard, just going to try to put myself into position coming down to the last nine, maybe six holes tomorrow and give it a shot and see what happens."

He'll have plenty of company in that quest, too.