5 Things: Distracted Simpson roars into share of lead
Sunday's third round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions saw the lead go from one Johnson (Zach) to another (defending champion Dustin) as well as a Simpson (Webb) and a Spieth (Jordan).
Going into the Monday finish, here are 5 Things to Know from Kapalua, Hawaii:
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1. CARRYING ON IN PAIN: Webb Simpson arrived to start his third round with a “heavy heart,” but it had nothing to do with the four-stroke deficit and everything to do with a friend’s heartache.
Late Saturday, Simpson heard the news that there was a serious health issue with a son born to friend and caddie Paul Tesori and his wife, Michelle, in Jacksonville, Fla. According to reports Simpson had received, the baby, Isaiah, “had a seizure” right after birth and was rushed into intensive care.
Simpson said he talked to his caddie late Saturday (“It was tough to hear a friend hurting”) and was emotionally torn while sitting around Sunday morning, just waiting for Round 3 to begin. “If not for being 12 hours away from where he is, I’d consider going to see him,” Simpson said. “I was pretty down (at the start of Round 3), but Paul texted me, told me he loved me, and to go out and play hard.”
And, oh, how Simpson did just that, especially on the back.
Having turned in a quiet 1-under 35, Simpson was 10 under and not near the top of the leaderboard. That changed when he ran off birdies at the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th, coming home in 33 to shoot 68 and push to 14-under 205.
That gave Simpson a share of the lead with Dustin Johnson (69) and Jordan Spieth (69), while 36-hole leader Zach Johnson struggled to 74 and fell into solo fourth, two strokes back.
Moments after finishing his round with a tidy two-putt for par from nearly 60 feet, Simpson signed his card and went to his cellphone for updates. What especially touched Simpson was how “everyone came up to me and asked about Paul; he’s a loved guy.”
Simpson shook is head.
“I thought about him all day,” he said.
Tesori took to Twitter late in the day to express his gratitude. He posted from his account, @PaulTesori: "I keep tweeting this but THANK YOU! I keep getting emotional with every prayer, tweet & text. Isaiah is in God's perfect & loving care." Tesori also sent a tweet with a photo of his fill-in: "Simpson has Bubba's caddie and Tesori's friend Ted Scott on the bag, wore this hat today: pic.twitter.com/BzS0cTQrJL #PGATOUR Thank you brother!"
PHOTOS: Hyundai TOC, Round 2
A look at the second round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in photos.
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2. NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP: Jordan Spieth was a fan and the media favorite in 2013. No status, no card and having to rely on sponsor’s exemptions, Spieth ran the tables.
The 20 year-old won the John Deere Classic in a playoff, just missed winning his second event at the Wyndham Championship (losing in a playoff to Patrick Reed), played on the Presidents Cup team and finished 10th in the FedEx Cup.
Pretty heady stuff for a rookie.
Now Spieth is following it up with an encore performance at Kapalua – shooting a 4-under 69 to move into a tie with Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson for the lead after 54 holes.
“Third round is where I struggled last year and it was mainly because of my patience,” Spieth said of his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. “I’m excited to get to play with Webb (Simpson) for the third time again this week.”
Because this is new territory, Spieth was unsure exactly how he would approach Monday’s final round. He said he plans on using his experience in the past in college and amateur golf as a barometer.
“I think the biggest key when I was in this position was not to try and win by one,” Spieth said. “. . . Try and go out there, get way ahead and you almost have the mindset that you want to go out there and try to win by five shots."
For the record ,the last player to win by five or more shots at Kapalua was Australian Geoff Ogilvy in 2009; he won by six over Anthony Kim and Davis Love III.
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3. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: Brian Gay left the Plantation course after his second round on Saturday a bit shaken. After an opening-round 70, the Florida native took a precipitous fall down the leaderboard – shooting a 3-over 76, tying the worst score of the day.
But that was Saturday. On Sunday, Gay was on fire early – shooting a 7-under 29 on the front nine to move from 13 shots off the lead to on the leaderboard.
A couple of birdies on the back nine coupled with a bogey on the 16th hole as Gay posted an 8-under 65, his first round in the 60s on the Plantation Course in 11 attempts.
“I got off to terrible starts the first two days," Gay said, "hitting good shots but just putted horrific the first few holes both the first two rounds."
“I hit good shots again today and made the putts.”
The putting numbers bear out Gay’s claim, with 31 putts Friday, 34 putts Saturday and 26 putts Sunday – including only 11 putts on the front nine.
“I spent a little time up on the putting green after the round yesterday,” Gay said. “I love Bermuda, I grew up on it. These are tough. There's a lot of slope and wind and you can't tell up, down and everything around here. They are tough to putt.”
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4. NO BCS FOR BLIXT: There is a full agenda of activities to keep Jonas Blixt busy right after the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but contrary to internet chatter, Monday night’s BCS Championship game between Florida State and Auburn isn’t among them.
“Believe me, I would love to,” said Blixt, a 2008 FSU grad, “but I’m not going.”
First obstacle: His Monday tee time in the fourth round of the tournament. Having shot 4-under 69 Sunday to settle in at 4-under 215 for 54 holes, Blixt will have an early start Monday, but, “I’d have to play in something like two hours.”
Not only isn’t that going to happen, there’s the reality the Los Angeles is two hours ahead in time. Even if he were to catch an early-afternoon flight, he’d make it to the airport in Los Angeles sometime in the second half. On top of all that, there was this reality: “I don’t even have a ticket,” Blixt said with a laugh.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson were in the final two groups on Sunday and both faltered significantly against the field. Johnson’s 74 and Kuchar’s 75 were two of the three rounds over-par in a third round that had a scoring average of 69.833. . . . Jason Dufner is in the hunt at 11 under, three shots off the lead and tied for fifth, but his position on the leaderboard doesn’t seem to be due to his putting. After three rounds Dufner has made a total distance of 151 feet, 10 inches in putts, ranking him last in the field of 30 players. To put it in perspective, leader Simpson has made a total distance of 278 feet, 1 inch in putts, a difference of 127 feet, 9 inches. . . . Twenty-three of the last 29 54-hole leaders have won the TOC. . . . With the NCAA's BCS National Championship football game between Florida State and Auburn Monday night, the TOC final round will start at 8:40 a.m. and is scheduled to conclude at 3:00 p.m. HST (or 8:00 p.m. EST). . . . Just one player, Derek Ernst, is above par; he's 12 over, with 29th-place D.A. Points (even) the only other player who isn't under par. . . . Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott birdied four of six holes from Nos. 5-10, then posted two birdies and two bogeys on his final five holes en route to a 69 that saw him rise three spots to T-9.