Webb Simpson nearly made history on Friday in Round 2 of the 2018 Players Championship. In the end, he had to settle for one of the great rounds of his life. Simpson’s 9-under 63 tied the course record at TPC Sawgrass and give Simpson, who is now 15 under overall, a five-stroke lead going to the weekend.
One shot though, at the most famous hole on the course, kept him from something close to 60. After making eagle at the second hole, Simpson went out in 5-under 31. Then he got hot. Simpson made birdies at Nos. 11-16 (that’s six in a row!) and stood on the 17th tee box at 17 under par with a seven-stroke lead. He needed to go birdie-birdie for a 59. Par-par for the course record by two.
After calling caddie Paul Tesori in multiple times to judge the wind and talk about his club selection, Simpson rocked one off the railroad ties circling the most famous green in golf. It landed in the water. Once he cleaned up the double bogey, he still had a five-stroke lead, but his chance at one of the all-time iconic rounds on this famous course went by the wayside.
“I backed off a couple times because the wind seemed to be changing,” Simpson told Steve Sands of Golf Channel. “Honestly, I felt pretty good over it. I just blocked it a little bit. I’m trying to smash it. I don’t think it was a mistake, just the wrong club probably.”
He parred the last and tied a group of six players — which includes Fred Couples, Greg Norman, and Jason Day — for the Sawgrass record with that 63. He is now the Vegas favorite at +175 to win for his first time on the PGA Tour since 2013. It was an astounding display of golf in which Simpson was eight strokes better than the field for the day and gained all eight strokes (!) around or on the greens.
“It was a lot of fun,” Simpson said on Golf Channel. “I felt like everything was working today. Putts that I’m just trying to get them close are going in. I know of rode the momentum and kept going.”
His birdie at the tough par-4 15th epitomized his round. After narrowly overcooking his approach shot, Simpson rammed one home from off the back of the green for his fifth birdie in a row on the back side. He said it would have gone seven or eight feet past. Instead, it fell for his 15th birdie of the week.
Simpson’s five-stroke advantage over Patrick Cantlay and Charl Schwartzel is the biggest ever at this tournament, and his 129 total through 36 holes ties what Jason Day did in 2016 when he shot 63-66 and went on to win. Simpson has plenty of big-name chasers, and it’s mildly disconcerting that he’s not really striking the ball that well. But a five-stroke lead is a five-stroke lead, and you can burn yourself up in a hurry trying to chase around this place.
Of the previous six golfers who shot 63 at TPC Sawgrass, only three of them went on to win the tournament. Simpson will tilt this crowd one direction or the other based on what he does over the final 36 holes. With somebody who gets maybe hotter than anybody else in the planet being chased by several major winners, I can’t wait to see what unfolds.
T2. Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Cantlay, Danny Lee, (-10): Under normal circumstances, I would be pretty fired up about the chances of this group. But after 36 holes of Simpson burning Sawgrass to the ground, these are obviously not normal circumstances. However, these guys are all still in the tournament as long as Simpson’s putter cools on the weekend.
T5. Chesson Hadley, Charles Howell III, Alex Noren (-9): Howell gained five strokes on the rest of the field on the greens on Friday, and he wasn’t No. 1 in putting if you wanted any more evidence of how great Simpson was in the second round.
T7. Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Xander Schauffele (-8): Day easily cruised around Sawgrass on Friday (or it felt like he did until I watched Simpson later on). Still, he’s the one in this group that has the firepower to run down Simpson if the leader happens to limp home.
T11. Sergio Garcia, Jimmy Walker, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott (-7): What kind of odds am I getting on the winner coming from this group at T12? You have horses (Garcia and Johnson) as well as guys who are terrific on this course (Kuchar and Scott). I thought we might get more than a 71 out of D.J. after he pumped a bogey-free 66 on Thursday, but the middle of his round stalled and he made four bogeys (including one on a par five!).
T68. Tiger Woods (-1): Tiger’s proximity to the hole was just under 31 feet on Friday, but he thought it should have been a lot better. Given how well he drove it in Round 2, he’s probably correct.
“I’m more frustrated in the fact that I had some shorter irons in, and I didn’t hit any of them close,” Woods told reporters. “I should be hitting them inside flag length, and I didn’t do that at all today. The golf course could be had today, there was no doubt.”
He narrowly made the cut after some of the guys at 2 under dropped off at the very end.
T68. Jordan Spieth (-1): Spieth had to have a 68 to avoid his fourth missed cut in a row on this course, and that’s what he got (despite a three putt at the final hole). So what changed? His approach shots. He went from bottom-five in the field to top 20. That’s how you conquer Sawgrass (unless you’re Simpson!)
T89. Rory McIlroy (+1): McIlroy came in with four top 12s in his last five Players Championships, but he couldn’t find his groove this week. He still went to No. 17 with a great chance to make the cut, but a water ball short of the island green sent him home for the weekend.
T89. Rickie Fowler (+1): The former Players champ was in position to make the cut but finished double-double-par-par to go to 1 over and miss out on the weekend. One photo sums up Fowler’s day and a curious (and mercurial) relationship with this golf course.
T134. Phil Mickelson (+8): It was about as bad of a week as Lefty could have had. He followed his 79 on Thursday with a 73 on Friday and complained about his lack of energy throughout the week. He’ll have plenty of time to recharge and hock long-sleeved button-up golf shirts over the weekend.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Friday. All of our notes and thoughts are below. If you are unable to view the live updates below, please click here.
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