A year ago, Webb Simpson came to Greensboro looking for any kind of positive reinforcement, any positive momentum after three years without a win. Anything to bolster his belief that he was on the right track in the absence of the results to prove it.
His second-place finish at the Wyndham Championship this year, capped by an 8-under-par 62 on Sunday – moving him to seventh in FedEx Cup points heading into the PGA Tour’s playoffs – was the latest piece of evidence that he was indeed headed in the right direction, not that the Raleigh native has lacked for them this summer.
Simpson broke his win drought at The Players in May, finished in the top 20 in all four majors, qualified on points for the U.S. team that will defend the Ryder Cup in France in September and heads into the tour’s final stretch on a roll after making a back-nine charge at eventual champion Brandt Snedeker, finishing tied for second with C.T. Pan.
He gave himself a chance to win Sunday, as he has throughout the summer. It’s exactly the evolution in his game he thought was in progress last year. He knows now he was right.
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“I feel like we’ve definitely been on a trend now of getting better,” Simpson said. “Not just getting better, but seeing the results. Sometimes you’re getting better, but you’re not seeing the results, so it’s nice to see both happening. I’ve seen plenty of guys, Justin Rose is one of them that I think of, just continuing to get better. Dustin Johnson, he just continues to get better.”
Simpson ended up three shots behind Snedeker, who closed out the win with a birdie on 18, but his final round was mere inches from matching Snedeker’s opening-round 59 – and mere inches from real disaster at the end.
In addition to his five birdies on the back nine and an eagle on the fifth hole, Simpson narrowly missed makeable birdie putts on 11, 12 and 14 that would have applied considerable pressure on Snedeker. His final chance went awry when his drive on 18 leaked right and across the cart path. It ended up in bounds by half a ball, a margin confirmed by a pink string strung between out-of-bounds posts. Simpson ended up making his only bogey of the day on 18, and his chance to win went with it.
“I had two of those yesterday where I hit them right, so that’s just a result of my rhythm being off and my timing being off,” Simpson said. “That was my only one today, so that makes me think what we’re working on is working.”
Simpson was the only player in the top 15 playing this week, with most of the big names taking the week off ahead of next week’s opening playoff event in New Jersey, but someone who went to Broughton and Wake Forest and lives in Charlotte is all but obligated to play Greensboro – willingly, to be sure, since one of his daughters, the third of four children, is named Wyndham in honor of his 2011 victory.
He made it worthwhile: He jumped from 12th to 7th in the points standings with the competition idle, giving a boost to his chances of challenging leaders Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas for the title at the end. It’s a long way from where he was two years ago, when he had fallen out of the top 25 for the first time since he established himself on tour. Even last year, when he was more competitive but still saddled with the wait for his next win.
A year ago at Sedgefield, Simpson finished up his round, talked with a lone reporter, gathered up his family and left quickly. He was in demand Sunday, with television interviews with CBS and the international broadcaster, a radio interview and a full media session.
“I really want to keep getting better,” Simpson said, “and come back next year here talking to you guys.”
And not just Simpson talking: He held Wyndham, 4, in his arms during his CBS interview. She was running around the media area last year. Now she’s a star, like her father is again.