WGC-Workday Championship: Webb Simpson conceding nothing this week, tied for lead with 66

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Adam Schupak
·4 min read
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Webb Simpson isn’t conceding anything this week at the WGC-Workday Championship.

The 35-year-old former U.S. Open champion carded seven birdies, including three in a row over the final four holes, to shoot an opening-round 6-under 66 at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.

The field of 72 at this week’s World Golf Championship event relocated from Mexico to Florida this year due to the global pandemic. The layout, co-designed by World Golf Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, is named in tribute to one of the game’s most famous sportsmanlike gestures. At the 1969 Ryder Cup, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s marker to concede an 18-inch putt at the last hole with their match on the line. The result meant the biennial competition between the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland (at the time) ended in a tie with the U.S. retaining the Cup.

When Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was asked what current American player would be most likely to follow in the footsteps of Nicklaus and his magnanimous gesture, McIlroy didn’t have to think long before responding: “Most likely, Webb Simpson.”

On Thursday, Simpson continued to play his brand of precision golf that has lifted him to No. 9 in the world. Simpson was deadly as usual in his approach game. He ranked fourth in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and third in Strokes Gained: Approach to the Green.

“The course is fantastic. It’s firm. I was hoping it would get firm and fast. It takes that lengthy scorecard down a little bit. Very pleased with the start,” he said.

Simpson didn’t see the golf course until Tuesday, but it didn’t seem to pose a problem for him on Thursday.

“We were a little slow in our practice rounds, there was more to talk about, more conversation,” said Simpson of prep work with caddie Paul Tesori. “We do have a system of how we plot golf courses and so we still did that the same way we always do, we just took our time a little more and tried to be a little more observant on the greens and around the greens.”

Simpson made three birdies on the front nine as well as his lone bogey, at the par-4 fifth. After a birdie at the 10th, he heated up late in the day, sticking a wedge inside 3 feet at 15 for birdie, sinking a 32-foot birdie putt at 16, and getting down in two putts from 47 feet at the par-5 17th for one more circle on the card.

Simpson was tied for the lead with Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, and one stroke better than Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka, who did most of his damage on the front nine after starting at No. 10.

Simpson has complained that a tough winter back home in Charlotte has made it difficult to practice outdoors, but after skipping the last two tournaments he was able to put in the necessary work and it made all the difference.

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“I worked on a couple things last week with putting alignment and with my driver and I saw good things from that today,” he said. “You always want to see it first round back, but it doesn’t always happen that way, so I was happy to see like tough tee shots with trouble, really stepping up and making good swings. And made a lot of putts today, so that was a good feeling.”

Simpson’s game has been sharp enough to make 13 straight cuts, and he’s racked up five top-10 finishes during that stretch. The only thing slowing him down ever so slightly was testing positive for COVID-19 late last year.

“My taste is like 75 percent back. That was definitely a lot worse than I anticipated, not being able to taste food,” Simpson said last month.

COVID did force him to make one concession, the joy of his morning Joe.

“I just missed being able to smell and taste my coffee in the morning,” he said. “Now that it’s coming back, I have a greater appreciation for it.”