AVONDALE, La. – Webb Simpson wants to get uncomfortable again. He figures that would be the best way to replicate the results of his impressive 2011.
Simpson has been steady once again this year – making all 10 of his cuts – but hasn’t had as many high finishes as he’d like, finishing outside the top 25 six times. His third-place showing at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions was his best of the year and one of three top-10s. Simpson finished 13th at last week’s Zurich Classic.
“We’ve just made more dumb mistakes this year,” Simpson. “More than anything I think it’s mental. I just need to get a little smarter, a little sharper out there. I think I’m becoming more comfortable and with that you get a little more careless.”
This is Simpson’s fourth year on Tour, and the first which he started with his card secured. By being securely in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking (he’s currently 14th), he’s guaranteed to play all the majors and World Golf Championships, as well.
“The more nervous I am, the better I play,” he said.
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HOME SICK: Bubba Watson finished 18th at the Zurich Classic, his first event after his Masters victory. He’s finished 18th or better in all nine starts this season. Watson will play his next PGA Tour event at the Players Championship.
“All in all, pretty good week being tired, coming back for the first time after winning the Masters, all this different media attention, you know, all the stuff that comes with it, it’s different,” Watson said.
He had to make an 11-foot birdie putt on his 35th hole to make the cut on the number, then shot 65-70 on the weekend.
“My mind is with my wife and my kid,” he said. “I want to go home and spend time with them. I want to be a better husband, a better dad. I want to learn how to be a dad. You know, we’ve had him for five weeks. I’ve only been home for maybe two weeks.”
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BACK TO NO. 1: Luke Donald finished third to regain the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking. He played the final three rounds in 18 under par (65-66-67) after a first-round 73. Donald was two shots out of the Jason Dufner-Ernie Els playoff, won by Dufner.
“I got off to a slow start and that was the difference this week,” Donald said. “It was a little too much to catch up on today’s round.”
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TAKING ADVANTAGE: Colt Knost made it through Q-School by the slimmest of margins in December. Now he’s having a career year, his PGA Tour card all but locked up before the summer begins, thanks to two third-place finishes (Mayakoba, RBC Heritage). He credits a swing change with instructor Randy Smith and a pairing that began last year with sports psychologist Neale Smith. Knost finished 24th at the Zurich on the strength of a final-round 66. It was his fourth top-25 of the season.
Knost, who won the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2007, calls his pairing with Neale Smith “one of the best decisions of my life,” because it helped alleviate a lot of the self-imposed pressure that Knost placed on himself. His mother, Luann, strongly recommended after last year’s Memorial that her son seek a sports psychologist.
“It’s changed my whole perspective on this game,” Knost said. “I’m just enjoying it a lot more right now. I’m a lot more confident, a lot more relaxed.”
Knost also worked on improving his swing plane the week before last year’s Q-School second stage. He used to get the club too flat, then come “over the top.” Knost made double bogey on his final hole of December’s Q-School finals to earn his card without a shot to spare. An exhausted Knost was in tears after the round.
“The 20 minutes until I found out I did (earn my card), it was miserable,” Knost said. “It was life-changing. I know I’m fortunate to be out here this year and I’m taking advantage of it.”
His $746,846 in earnings have virtually ensured he’ll keep his card at season’s end. “I’ve never been in this position before,” Knost said. “It’s like a year-and-a-half exemption.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Peter Hanson played the Zurich Classic after finishing 14th in the previous week’s Volvo China Open. The Swede isn’t sponsored by the automaker, but wanted to be loyal to the company with roots in his home country. This was the second consecutive year he received an exemption into the Zurich. He arrived in Orlando from China early Monday afternoon, then flew to New Orleans early Tuesday morning. Hanson, the 54-hole leader at this year’s Masters, finished 52nd at the Zurich. … Ben Curtis followed his Texas Open victory by finishing 13th. … Patrick Reed, a first-team All-American at Augusta State last year, earned $81,755 in consecutive PGA Tour starts. He was T-35 at the Texas Open on a sponsor exemption, then drove 500-plus miles through the evening for the Zurich Classic Monday qualifier, arriving in New Orleans at 2:15 a.m., according to his agent, Kevin Canning. Reed qualified for the Zurich, then finished 24th after a final-round 66, including a 5-under 31 on his final nine holes. He was tied for second in birdies (24) but also had 12 bogeys and a double-bogey.