Webb Simpson has managed to fit a few rounds of golf in between birthday parties this week. So far, so good.
Simpson, whose home is next to the seventh tee at Quail Hollow Club, is tied with first-round leader Robert Streb for the second-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship.
It would have been a busy week for Simpson and his wife, Dowd, anyway, with their daughter, Wyndham Rose, turning 1 on Tuesday.
And after firing his second consecutive 67 Friday on his home course – a round that included chipping in for birdie on two holes – Simpson hurried off to attend his mother-in-law’s birthday party.
“I think it’s good,” said Simpson of all that goes with playing in a tournament that’s located in his backyard. “I don’t feel any more pressure now that I’m tied for the lead or however it ends up. The end goal is to shoot as many under as I can.”
Simpson will be in Saturday’s final pairing with Streb, who shot a 3-under 69 to go 10 under for the tournament. Simpson and Streb sit atop a leader board that suddenly became pretty attractive as Friday’s second round wound down.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy shot a bogey-free 67 and is tied for fifth at 7 under with Phil Mickelson and Will MacKenzie, a native of Greenville, N.C.
Martin Flores, who led the tournament after three rounds in 2014, and Patrick Rodgers, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption, are tied for third, two strokes behind the leaders.
But the day ended up belonging to Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. He was escorted around the course Friday by thousands of fans who might have known him from his childhood in Raleigh, from his days as a student at Wake Forest, or as a resident of Charlotte.
“I can’t imagine more support than (Friday),” said Simpson, whose most recent victory came in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October 2013. “I saw so many people, friends and family and heard my name a lot. I’m sure (Saturday) will be fun.
“If I’m 1 over at any point early in the round (Saturday), I think that support will help me. They’ll be rooting for me and birdies will mean more. It will be fun.”
The first two days have been a treat for Deacons fans at Quail Hollow, with Simpson playing with Bill Haas, another former Wake Forest player who is at 2-under for the tournament. Haas, who was born in Charlotte, and his family were invited to Wyndham Rose’s birthday party.
“I love playing with Bill,” said Simpson. “Anytime you know a guy well it helps. We can talk about stuff other than golf.”
Simpson said he can’t remember chipping in twice during one round, as he did on Nos. 9 and 17 Friday. If it was going to come anywhere, though, it would be Quail Hollow, a course he said he plays once or twice a week during the 25 weeks he’s at home during the year, in addition to other courses around town. He understands the subtleties of the course, including how the wind seems to always swirl on the back nine.
“I think it helps a little bit,” Simpson said of the local knowledge. “You know where to miss it for the pins we’re playing. Now, I think the best player is going to win this week no how many times somebody has played it. But I definitely feel a little sense of comfort knowing I’ve been here so much.”
Simpson’s tee shot on the par-3 17th landed in a collection area to the right of the green. If he missed his chip by hitting it too hard, the ball might roll into the lake on the left side of the green.
Instead, it went in, moving him to 10 under for the tournament.
“I’ve had that shot a lot,” he said. “I hit it in the bowl area a ton.”
Simpson’s birdie on 17 tied him for the lead when Streb, playing two groups behind him, bogeyed No. 16. It was the only bogey of the day for Streb, who finished with a 69 after taking the lead after Thursday’s first round.
Playing in the final group is a rare experience for Streb, who won last fall’s McGladrey Classic (Ga.).
“It’ll probably be a little different,” Streb said of playing with Simpson. “But it’s where you want to be, the last groups of the weekend. There are some big names at the top.”
There’s McIlroy, who pushed himself into contention with a 67.
“I’m not putting myself under that stress out there,” he said. “I feel like I could have shot 63 or 64.”
And there’s Mickelson, who is still looking for his first Wells Fargo title and whose 6-under 66 featured just one bogey.
“Right now, nobody is turning 66s into 71s better than me,” he said, hinting at the frustration he’s felt over his recent play. “It’s nice to finally shoot that 66 and get the score that reflects the way I’m playing.”