PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — One hundred seven times, Webb Simpson had begun a golf tournament without finishing one just the way he wanted. There were times in there when he thought his career was going to end before his drought did.
So, it was only natural that he was going to scuffle a little on the last lap and that he was going to be emotional when the last putt dropped. These past 4 1⁄2 years had been a hard grind. “If it hadn’t been for my faith, it would have been a lot harder,” he said after he finished a dominant week at The Players with a four-stroke win.
After having tied a record by having gone so low through 54 holes, he did not even break par in the final round. The point is, he did not break. Not when his method of putting was banned, not when he was one of the worst on tour on the greens. Not when Tiger Woods galvanized the entire TPC Sawgrass course with an adrenaline-drenched run that drew him within four shots of Simpson.
The golfer who had adopted the claw putting grip at this very site one year ago ended up at 18 under par, grabbing his first win since 2013 and his biggest since the 2012 U.S. Open.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s not making a lot of mistakes,” Woods said after having faltered down the stretch, put a ball in the water on the par-3 17th and finished seven strokes back. “And he’s making everything [on the greens].”
Every green used to be a horror chamber for Simpson, until Paul Tesori, who has become Simpson’s best friend as well as his caddie (and fellow Christian), talked him into trying something different. A tip from fellow pro Tim Clark on the TPC Sawgrass practice green last May gave Simpson a new lease on his career.
On Sunday, he frequently had to make putts for pars. He finished with a tap-in for double-bogey 6 on 18 after his pumped-up approach shot flew the flag and the green and found the water. That was no problem because he had banked such a lead, matching Greg Norman’s mark for low three-round total of 19 under.
Feelings were as numerous as birdies for Simpson. He spoke of his father, Sam, who died last fall. “I thought about him all day,” Simpson said. “We miss him like crazy. And I wanted to do this for my mom. She has been praying for me.”
The winner’s wife, Dowd, had been home in North Carolina, taking care of the couple’s four children, but she flew in for the final round. She was the one who had convinced him to display his broken old long putter alongside the replica of his U.S. Open trophy — a reminder that he could leave the memory of the anchored putting method behind. Tesori, who has lived all his life near this course, was in tears at the trophy ceremony.
Jitters crept in, though, after Simpson pushed his tee shot on the par-3 eighth into the right bunker and made the first of two bogeys in a three-hole stretch. “There was so much noise up ahead of us, with Tiger,” he said. But he settled down after he birdied No. 11, getting home in two from the fringe. Simpson admitted “celebrating internally” when his tee shot on 17 found dry land.
“This means everything to me. I feel like this is my first win,” he said, reflecting on his fourth and most recent victory, the 2013 Shriners Hospital for Children Open. “I never doubted myself, but at the same time, that’s a long time.”