PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – All that’s left now for Webb Simpson is to finish what he has so brilliantly started over three days at the Players Championship.
Seven strokes ahead. Eighteen holes remaining.
Looking for perspective?
The biggest 54-hole lead ever lost on the PGA Tour is six strokes, which has happened seven times.
Simpson has been exceptional to this point and drove the point home when he hammered in a 17-foot par putt on the 18th hole late Saturday afternoon, saving himself another stroke for Sunday.
After separating himself with his course record-tying 63 on Friday, which staked him to a five-stroke lead, Simpson added to it Saturday, shooting 68 to stand at 19-under par through 54 holes, equaling the tournament scoring record through three rounds set by Greg Norman 24 years ago.
“Twelve-under par is second,” Simpson said. “I would have taken that and run with it for three days.”
Why this week?
What has changed?
“I don’t know,” Simpson said, acknowledging the fickle nature of the game.
One year ago this week he got a putting tip from Tim Clark and it changed the course of his career. Last November, Simpson lost his father, Sam, and now finds himself on Mother’s Day trying to win for his mother, Debbie, and his wife, Dowd, mother of their four children.
“It would be an amazing Mother’s Day present for (my mother) after all she has been through but there’s still 18 holes to go,” Simpson said.
There’s a good tournament going on behind Simpson.
Danny Lee is at 12-under par with world No.1 Dustin Johnson alone at 10-under par. Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods shot matching 65s Saturday to jump into the top 10 and earn a Sunday pairing together.
The tournament, though, is in Simpson’s hands.
How did he get here?
Simpson leads the field in strokes gained putting with a remarkable 8.314 advantage. Basically, that means he’s picked up eight strokes on the green over everyone else.
Then there’s the 99-foot bunker shot Simpson holed for eagle from behind the par-5 11th green Saturday. When it rains …
“Nice bonus,” Simpson said of his hole-out.
Alex Čejka led the Players Championship by five strokes after three rounds in 2009 and shot 79 to tie for ninth but this feels different, perhaps because Simpson has the 2012 U.S. Open championship on his résumé.
So what’s the key to handling a lead like Simpson has?
“It can be dangerous. A hundred percent,” said Jason Day, who is tied for fourth, 10 strokes behind.
“When you’re sitting there and you’re trying to be defensive you’re hitting yourself to 30, 40 feet and your putting has to take the brunt of that. Obviously last rounds are totally different compared to the first three days. I remember last week I couldn’t feel my hands in the final round, that’s why I had no idea where it was going. He may handle it a little bit differently to me and we all handle it differently each and every time we’re there.”