WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, — A chip-in for eagle and seven birdies gave Webb Simpson a career-low 61 July 5. A timely weather delay and one fortuitously located golf cart also helped make him the Greenbrier’s first-round leader.
“You never shoot 9 under thinking before the round, ‘Today is going to be my day,’ but overall, a great solid day,” said Simpson, who admitted he daydreamed of becoming only the ninth player to post a sub-60 round on the PGA Tour.
Brilliant as Simpson was, he couldn’t distance himself from the pack. Whee Kim was close behind, at 8-under, and Juaquin Niemann stood two shots off, at 63.
Simpson felt himself speeding up when his tee shot sliced into the trees on No. 13, but a lightning delay stopped play for an hour. He used the opportunity “to hit 30 or so balls” on the practice range and returned with better rhythm.
But he still had to navigate the messy scenario on the par-4 13th hole, where his approach shot was headed for more trouble, only to deflect off a cart. One kind bounce later, Simpson sunk a 5-foot putt to stay bogey-free.
“One of those miracle pars,” he said. “Somehow it stayed in play. If the cart wasn’t there, it would’ve gone in the water, and I’m dropping on a side hill and I’m lucky to make double-bogey.”
Simpson didn’t get off the course until after 8 p.m. and will face a 7:40 a.m. tee time today.
One of the tour’s best young players, the Chilean teenager Niemann, sported braces and, for much of Thursday, a prime leaderboard position. The best round of his burgeoning pro career, a bogey-free 7-under, only made him wary of the damage others might be ready to inflict upon the Old White TPC.
“These guys are really good, so I know they are going to go low,” Niemann said.
Last year, he was the world’s top-ranked amateur when he received an exemption at the Greenbrier and tied for 29th, at 5-under. Now Neimann’s back, three months after turning pro at the still-green age of 19, and proving he belongs. Already this season he owns top-eight finishes at Valero, Fort Worth and The Memorial.
“I’ve been playing really good golf, and it feels great to be back here,” Neimann said. “I just feel that I’m one of the youngest out here, so I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Kelly Kraft sat in fourth place, at 6-under, with Keegan Bradley part of a foursome lurking at 5 under.
A pack of 15 golfers shot 4-under 66, including defending camp Xander Schauffele, who overcame back-to-back bogeys on holes 14 and 15.
“At first I was a little nervous because I want to repeat so bad,” Schauffele said. “Now I’m trying to think. ‘I did win here last year for whatever reason that was.’ I feel comfortable on this golf course, so I’m trying to turn my brain into that direction versus getting nervous.”