Webb Simpson at home in Wells Fargo Championship lead
May 05, 2012 (Menafn - The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --While Rory McIlroy was striding through the muggy spring sunshine Saturday, conjuring up memories of his breakthrough moment two years ago at the Wells Fargo Championship, and seemingly everyone else was trying to fit their name atop the leader board at Quail Hollow Club, Webb Simpson kept being Webb Simpson.
He continued playing host to house guest and second-round leader Nick Watney in the morning, made the 1-mile drive to Quail Hollow, then spent the afternoon locked in his own world, piecing together a third-round 69 that earned him a one-stroke lead over Ryan Moore and D.A. Points with 18 holes remaining at his home club.
While others were more spectacular -- McIlroy's 66 included a tee shot at the par-4 16th that went so far it bounced into spectators crossing the fairway and a drive at the 18th hole that bounced off the wallet tucked into a pocket on a spectator's backside -- Simpson was his usual relentless self.
If Simpson's game isn't as classically stylish as McIlroy's or as colorful as Rickie Fowler's (who is three back), it's as doggedly resilient as any in recent months. He's hit only 18 of 42 fairways, but it hasn't mattered. Simpson has needed only 86 putts in 54 holes. He hasn't had a three-putt green in 210 holes, the longest current streak on tour.
As the sun began to slant across Quail Hollow late Saturday, Simpson did his best work.
He turned a bad tee shot at the par-5 15th into a make-it-happen moment that resulted in a birdie that earned him a share of the lead. Two holes later, Simpson birdied the dangerous par-3 17th with a 21-foot putt that sent him home with the lead to talk about over another dinner of takeout.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself," said Simpson, who is at 14-under-par 202 through three rounds. "There's so many players within a shot or two, so I know it's going to be a tough day. I know I can go out and shoot 4 under and get beat by two or three.
"You saw McIlroy (two) years ago shoot 10 under (62). Knowing that, my expectations aren't too high. Obviously, I want to go out there and try to win, but all I can do is control what we're doing."
Control has been critical to Simpson's success to this point. He confessed to being nervous when he saw he was paired with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds, but he handled it beautifully, beating Woods by 11 shots over two days. While Woods went home Friday with his game needing more work, Simpson went home Saturday night with the lead.
Simpson said a friend texted a Bible story to him earlier this week and he has used it like a mantra on the course. It's the story of Gideon, being called by God to help his people.
"The picture I look at is God uses the weak to make his name look great," Simpson said. "I felt pretty weak and helpless the other day with that tee time (with Woods), being my home crowd, my home course, all the pressure was kind of mounting. Truthfully, it really calmed me down."
Like McIlroy, Simpson has shot 62 at Quail Hollow -- however, he did it playing from shorter tees and not in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
For a time Saturday, McIlroy looked as if he might duplicate his course record performance. He birdied the first three holes and four of the first five to jump start his tournament. He hadn't been sharp in the first two rounds, but it came together Saturday, a day after his parents flew into Charlotte to surprise their son on his 23rd birthday.
The world's second-ranked player, McIlroy's presence looms large.
"I'll draw on those good memories and those positive thoughts from a couple of years ago," McIlroy said. "I've had some great experiences on this golf course and hopefully I can create a few more."
While Simpson has the lead and the hometown vibe and McIlroy has the aura and the record at Quail Hollow, others figure prominently in the Sunday storyline:
Ryan Moore would have a share of the lead if not for a one-stroke penalty at the 11th hole Friday when his ball moved after he addressed a 1-foot putt.
"I'm just going to try to keep doing exactly what I'm doing," said Moore, whose only victory came at the 2009 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro.
Points won the 2010 AT&T National Pro-Am with partner Bill Murray -- yes, that Bill Murray, the comedian -- and he's hoping to channel his friend's karma over the final 18 holes.
"I'm going to try to spend more time talking to the crowd, kind of like Bill would do, and also talk to my wife and her family. I'll try to distract myself in other ways," Points said. "I won't have Bill per se but I'll try to use some of that."
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