This PLAYERS Championships is all about Webb Simpson, and maybe Tiger Woods’ front nine enroute to 65 on Day 3, as also Jordan Spieth’s stunning back nine, also enroute to a 65 on Saturday.
First, Simpson. The one-time putting star struggled when belly-anchoring was banned. But an impromptu lesson at this very place a year ago, sees him back with a method called the ‘Claw’.
After three days, Simpson, five ahead after 36 holes, is seven clear after 54 and has tied both 36-hole (with Jason Day) and 54-hole scoring records (with Greg Norman). Barring a monumental collapse, he should walk away with the second most important Trophy in his professional career, after the 2012 US Open.
Simpson has shot 66-63-68 for a 19-under 197. Second placed Danny Lee (70) is 12-under, while World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (69) is 10-under. Four players Jason Day (71), Jason Dufner (66), Jimmy Walker (70), Xander Schauffele (71) and Charl Schwartzel (73) are at 9-under.
And then there are seven others, including the one-and-only Woods (65) and Spieth (65), who leapt up from 1-under and the cutline to 8-under and Tied-9th.
Simpson (68) did not let slip-up, though he was much more subdued in comparison to the second round. Yet the focus on Saturday was on Woods on the front nine (as he shot 6-under 30) and Spieth on the back nine where he shot 5-under 31.
Simpson, with four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in his 68, said, “I feel like I’m playing good, solid golf, but … I’ve holed out a few times from off the green and made some long putts.”
At the 2017 PLAYERS Simpson was struggling with putting, when he bumped into Tim Clark on the practice putting green. The two longtime users of ‘belly putting’ talked. Simpson admitted he was inconsistent, which is when Clark suggested a new method, a ‘claw’. Simpson used it without any practice and it clicked. He shot 4-under in the first two rounds and ultimately finished 16th.
With time Simpson created his own ‘method’ what he called the “Kuchar-claw,” – Matt Kuchar was another one using a long putter but he stopped anchoring against the belly and instead use a kind of claw and put his putter against his left forearm. Kuchar won the 2012 PLAYERS.
Now Simpson is on the verge of winning the 2018 PLAYERS with a similar method and as his caddie, Paul Tesori, a popular man here, because he is from neighbouring St. Augustine, said, “And to look at him now, it’s nothing short of miraculous.”
Simpson, himself said, “It's been a year and a few days, so I'm really thankful that he (Tim Clark) was here that day. I wasn't going in a good direction. It was a couple years of struggle up and down, but you know, I'm very thankful that he gave me that lesson. I'm thankful that I've put together a year of pretty solid putting. To be honest. I hit it pretty solid through those years, and that (putting) was the missing link.”
Woods had mixed feelings. Happy with his front nine, he was also disappointed, as he said, “Yeah, I mean to be 8-under through 12, realistically I probably could have got a couple more and got to 10 for the day, but I'll take it.”
Spieth turned in 2-under 34, but on the back nine, he had two hat-tricks of birdies. First from 11th to 13th and then again on the last three holes. Spieth said, “I think I was perfect inside of 10 to 15 feet today and anywhere inside, which was probably the first time this year. I actually drove the ball unbelievably well the first two days and I hit my driver really poorly today and shot 7-under. So it just shows you where it actually matters and that's on the greens.”