It's one of the things I enjoy the most about being a golf fan. True golf fans will never actively root for someone to have a bad round. Webb Simpson put fans to that test when he took a 7-stroke lead into the final round of The Players.
Most of the golf pundits talked around it as best they could after the round on Saturday and again on Sunday morning on the Golf Channel. They took turns speculating on what it would take to make the final round competitive. What would Tiger have to shoot to be a factor on Sunday? What if someone like Jason Day made a charge with a 63? No matter how low they were willing to go with their projections for the other players, there was only one truth. If anyone other than Simpson was going to win on Sunday Simpson was going to have to play some poor golf. That is just a line golf fans don't like to cross.
About as far as anyone was willing to go was to bring up a few examples of other players, like Norman and Van de Velde, who weren't able to close out big tournaments after sleeping on a large lead. "Tune in to see if it happens, but, I sure hope it doesn't," seemed to be the overall attitude. It made me proud to be a fan.
Thankfully, it turned out that this tournament was already won on Saturday. There was no real reason to suspect that Simpson would put up a number big enough to allow anyone to catch him. A competent round of golf from a player who had been nearly perfect all week was all it was going to take.
Clearly, Simpson could have come back into the clutches of an outstanding field. Golf is golf. Simpson has struggled for some time to overcome the rules surrounding anchored putting. His putter had been hot all week, but, would it last under pressure on Sunday? Thankfully, it did. Too their professional credit, the field ended up having a very exciting race for second place. A ton of money and FedEx points were still up for grabs and the play was excellent from a number of players. Plus, we ended the day with a new World #1 Player in Justin Thomas. Good stuff!
In the end, Simpson did exactly what he needed to do. He played a very smart and very steady round of golf right up until the nerves finally showed themselves on his approach to the 18th. Even with a ball in the water on the last, Simpson comfortably won The Players by 4-shots.
It also turns out that 63 was the magic number. A round of 63 from Schwartzel, Walker, Schauffele, Dufner, or Day would have put them in a playoff. Maybe. Simpson would have likely played differently under that sort of pressure, but, those are how the numbers played out.
Webb Simpson is a true feel-good story about a man who fought for a long time to get back on top. It's certainly a better story than watching a player lose a big lead in such an important tournament. It wasn't an exciting finish but it was a good one. Well done Webb Simpson.