WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia – Webb Simpson’s wife Dowd had already ordered room service for him. With any luck, he’d be home in time to tuck the kids into bed, too.
But Simpson knew he might have to change another part of his evening routine after a rain delay of nearly two hours had kept him on the golf course much longer than anticipated. A 7:40 a.m. ET tee time on Friday was staring him squarely in the face.
“I normally have coffee after my round but it’s a little late,” he said, smiling and glancing at his watch. “So I might have to go half coffee.”
Decaf or not, though, Simpson planned to carve out a little time to savor the bogey-free 61 that left him on top of the leaderboard at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. The round of 9 under at the Old White TPC was a career low for the recent PLAYERS champion and left him one stroke ahead of Whee Kim and two up on Joaquin Niemann.
“I’ll enjoy the round tonight and talk to my wife about it,” Simpson said as he glanced at his watch. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Simpson’s round took off as he made the turn with three-straight birdies starting at the ninth hole and a chip-in eagle at No. 12. That spurt moved him to 7 under and soon birdies at Nos. 14 and 16 had the crowd on full 59 alert.
“You don’t ever expect those runs to come,” Simpson said. “But you know on a course like this – it has its challenges but it also will give you plenty of opportunities to hit wedges into these greens and they’re pretty soft.
“So you know at any time you can possibly go on a run.”
The Old White, which gave up a 59 to Stuart Appleby in the inaugural event in 2010, toughened up on the final two holes, though.
Simpson found the rough off the tee at the par-5 17th and when he laid up with his second he still was in the tall grass. The 2010 U.S. Open champ then wedged on and narrowly missed a 25-footer for birdie. He couldn’t get another 25-footer to drop at No. 18, either.
“It was kind of a bummer to end the round that way after having a chance,” Simpson acknowledged. “But overall, great, solid day.”
Simpson has played in every tournament at The Greenbrier, posting a trio of top 10s, including a solo third in 2014. He knows better than get too far ahead of himself, though, particularly with a dicey forecast for Friday.
“I think emotionally tomorrow I’ll come out the exact same as if I shot 71 or a 68,” Simpson said. “Go out there and try to put another solid round together and see where, what, the other guys do.”
This is just his ninth start of the season but golf fans are getting used to seeing Joaquin Niemann’s name near the top of the leaderboard. The 19-year-old from Chile has already posted three top-10s and he’s off to another stellar start this week on the Old White TPC with a first-round 63. The round ties his career low on TOUR in relation to par and is one-stroke better than his final round here a year ago in his professional debut. Neimann didn’t make a bogey all day as he turned in a sizzling 31 and eventually broke par for the 16th time in 25 rounds this year. “It’s important to start that good,” he said. “It gives you a little confidence for what is coming for the rest of the week.” The Greenbrier has been good to first-time winners, too, with four of its seven champions breaking through here on the C.B. MacDonald design.
Keegan Bradley set the tone for his day early when he drained a 42-footer for eagle at No. 12, which was his third hole of the day. “That was awesome,” Bradley said. “It was one of those that was tracking the whole way, and it went right in the middle.” He made four more birdies in his next seven holes before giving a shot back at the par-3 third when he missed the green. Still, the round of 65 tied for Bradley’s best start of the season – he shot the same score in the first round of the CIMB Classic last fall and went on to finish second, one of three top-10s in 19 starts this season. He’s looking for his first win since the 2012 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. “It seems like the whole year I’ve put together three good rounds and then one bad one or two. So hopefully this will be the week to put four together.”
Bubba Watson said he played “scared” on Thursday instead of trusting the game that has produced three PGA TOUR wins already this season. Even so, he was 4 under through 16 holes before a double bogey at the par-3 eighth and closing par at No. 9 left him at 68. “On every tee shot – doesn’t matter if it was iron off the tee or driver off the tee – I just played scared because I wanted the fairway so bad,” Watson said. He only found seven, though, and just 14 of 18 greens in regulation. But as frustrated as he was, Watson knows he’s not out of it. After all, he opened with an even par 70 at TPC River Highlands and was seven strokes off the pace, and “I did all right that weekend,” the newly-minted and three-time Travelers champion said.
While one 19-year-old set the early pace, another one, Norman Xiong, had a solid professional debut with a first-round 69. Xiong, who played at Oregon, won both the Jack Nicklaus Award and Haskins Award before turning pro last month. Xiong said he wasn’t too nervous – “not enough to kind of throw anything off,” the teenager noted – but acknowledged the week had a different feel to it. He hit all but two fairways and 17 greens Thursday but needed 35 putts in a round that included three birdies and two pars. “Nothing went too out of whack,” he reported. “I drove it really well and kept it in play and when you do that you can’t shoot too high so I’ll take it.”
QUOTABLESI’ve been playing on the PGA TOUR with these guys is awesome – it’s really nice after I thought I was going to be in college this year.My game is there. I say that every week, my game is there, now it’s a matter of going out and executing it.I feel miserable. It was a terrible round of golf. … My score shows a couple under par but it was really bad.I had a good, solid start, and hopefully come out tomorrow and get hot on the greens, because the course is there for the taking if you get hot on the greens.
Low round: 61 by Webb Simpson, who tied his career low on TOUR.
Longest drive: J.B. Holmes 385-yarder on the 11th hole. He made a 9-footer for birdie there.
Longest putt: Cameron Tringale's putt of 52 feet on No. 6 for birdie.
Hardest hole: Par-3 15th, a 233-yarder that played to an average of 3.23. There were 11 birdies, 99 pars, 45 bogeys and 1 double bogey.
Easiest hole: Par-5 12th, a 558-yarder that played to an average of 4.369. There were 10 eagles, 85 birdies, 57 pars, 3 bogeys and 1 double bogey.
CALL OF THE DAY
For play-by-play coverage of the second round of a Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, listen at PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Webb Simpson's chip in for eagle is the Shot of the Day