Ponte Vedra Beach (United States) (AFP) – Webb Simpson’s bid for a 59 ended agaonizingly with a ball in the water guarding the famed island green at 17 on Friday, but his record-equalling 63 gave him a five-shot lead at the Players Championship.
Former US Open champion Simpson, 32, had tournament officials delving into the history books when he birdied six holes in succession from the 11th through 16th holes at TPC Sawgrass, storming to 17-under par and a seven-shot lead ont he field.
But his tee shot at the par-three 17th hit the wooden bulkhead surrounding the green, soaring high into the air before hitting the surface and rolling into the drink.
Simpson played his third shot from the drop zone en route to a humbling double-bogey five.
It was the only blemish in a course-record equalling round that included an eagle at the second hole and nine birdies.
Simpson’s 15-under total of 129 equalled the 36-hole tournament record set by Jason Day in 2015 and gave him a five-shot lead over South African Charl Schwartzel (66), New Zealand’s Danny Lee (66) and Patrick Cantlay (68).
“When you’re out there competing in a big tournament, you’re as focused as can be, but then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just — like a kid, just kind of laughing,” said Simpson, whose run of six straight birdies also matched a tournament record.
“Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it, and I grew up on an easy golf course, so it reminded me of being back home, shooting low numbers.
“At the same time you’re at TPC Sawgrass, so you know that trouble is everywhere, as you guys saw with me on 17.
“But it was just a fun day. And it’s rare as a golfer where everything is working well, driving, iron play, chipping and putting, and today everything came together.”
There were plenty of marquee names who couldn’t say the same.
Tiger Woods settled for a one-under par 71 and then endured an anxious afternoon wait before knowing he had made the cut on the number of one-under.
Woods hit just 12 greens in regulation and was never inside 10 feet with his approach shots.
“I just never hit it close enough,” he said. “The course could have been had today. It’s so hot, it’s playing short and the greens are receptive.”
Nevertheless, the 14-time major champion will play the weekend for the seventh time in eight events he has played this year in his return from back surgery.
– ‘Fun to play good golf’ –
Jordan Spieth (68) and Justin Thomas (70), also squeaked into the weekend while Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson all missed the cut.
Simpson, who has not tasted Tour success since capturing a fourth title in late 2014, will not want reminding that in the four times he’s made the Players cut he has never bettered a third-round 74.
“I’m 15-under through two days here, which is a lot lower than I ever would have expected to be,” he said.
“So I’m just looking forward to getting some good dinner and some rest and coming out and enjoying it tomorrow.
“It’s a lot of fun to play good golf, and hopefully I can keep that up.”