Simpson changes course of his history at Masters, now in contention

Webb Simpson waves to the gallery as he walks to the green on No. 16  during the third round of the Masters Tournament Saturday, April 13, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Webb Simpson waves to the gallery as he walks to the green on No. 16 during the third round of the Masters Tournament Saturday, April 13, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

There was no empirical evidence to suggest that Webb Simpson would have the opportunity to set a course record at Augusta National on Saturday. Both his previous performances at the Masters and his results on the PGA Tour for the last month suggested there was no pressing need for Simpson to be measured for a green jacket by the local tailors.

But the quiet Wake Forest grad had birdie putts on the final two holes that would have matched the competitive record of 63. He left a 17-footer on the left edge of the cup at No. 17 and was happy to two-putt from 49 feet for par at No. 18.

No record, but Saturday’s 8-under 64 was Simpson’s career-best at Augusta National and leaves him at 9-under 207 and in contention to win his second major championship.

“I had hit it really well through two days and didn’t make anything,” Simpson said. “And so I felt good that I was going to hit it well again and we just had to kind of tweak the way we were reading these greens.”

Simpson shot 71 and 72 in the first two rounds and had become overly concerned about playing the break in relation Rae’s Creek. He altered his thinking and stopped over-analyzing the putts. It resulted in a much better day on the greens.

“Instead of thinking about Rae’s Creek every time, I waited until I was unsure of the read to ask Paul (Tesori, his caddie) where Rae’s Creek was. In my mind it was less information.”

Simpson’s round turned after what he called a “sloppy bogey” at No. 6 that left him at 1 under. He responded at No. 7 by lobbing an 8-iron to within three feet. That birdie was the first of four straight and Simpson played the final 12 holes in 8 under par, including a 37-footer for eagle at No. 13.

“I just said, hey, if you stay fully committed the rest of the day, you’re swinging great, you’re putting well, you’re going to make birdies and that’s what I did,” he said.

Simpson was a model of consistency on Saturday. He hit 14 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He needed 27 putts, the fewest he’s required this week. He went without a three-putt green for the second consecutive round.

The change in Simpson’s approach to Augusta National began a year ago over the final two rounds. He decided to play smart golf on the weekend, leaving his approach shots on the safe side rather risk trouble by being too aggressive. It worked. Simpson shot 70 on Saturday and 67 on Sunday, his lowest score at the Masters.

This is the eighth Masters for Simpson. He’s missed the cut three times and his best finish was a tie for 20th in 2018. Now the 2012 U.S. Open champion is within range of his sixth victory and first since the 2018 Players Championship.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve never really had a chance here and never taken it deep her. It’s always nice to have a chance at any tournament, but it’s pretty special here.”