HONOLULU (AP)Webb Simpson has been on the PGA Tour long enough and won enough to not be in a hurry. He was no less eager to fly to the middle of the Pacific for one week at the Sony Open.
”I realized that when I got off the plane in Phoenix. I’m not even halfway there,” said Simpson, who began his journey from North Carolina. ”So it is really far. It’s further for me to come here than The Open Championship.”
Even so, there was something about late last year he wanted to put behind him.
Outside of the majors (Simpson has been eligible for all of them the last 10 years), there are three places he wanted to be – East Lake for the Tour Championship, Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup and Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions.
Missed all three of them.
”Those are my favorite events,” Simpson said. ”So I felt like I needed to put in some extra work in the offseason, and it feels great. So I feel like my game is in a good spot, and I fully believe my best golf is ahead of me.”
Simpson turned 36 last year, and for someone who doesn’t overpower the ball in this power era, he keeps getting the most of his game.
The Sony Open was too good for him to pass up. Waialae is among his favorite courses on tour with its tight, winding fairways and flat, pure greens. He has finished no worse than fourth, including last year when he wound up two shots behind Kevin Na.
The pleasant surprise was to see the ball rolling out in the fairways, particularly after all the rain on Oahu in recent weeks and what Simpson saw on television at Kapalua. In extremely soft conditions and next to no wind, Cameron Smith set a PGA Tour record when he finished at 34-under par to win by one shot over Jon Rahm.
Simpson doesn’t watch a lot of golf when he’s not at a tournament, though he pays attention. His routine is to look at the scores while he’s making his coffee in the morning, and he couldn’t believe the numbers being posted at Kapalua.
”My coffee process stopped because I had to see all these scorecards,” he said.
Only 22 of the 38 players in the winners-only field at Kapalua have come over to the next island. That includes Smith, who will try to join Justin Thomas (2017) and Ernie Els (2003) as the only players to sweep the two Hawaii stops.
Smith moved to No. 10 in the world for the first time with his victory, which now makes him the only player from the top 10 at the Sony Open. Bryson DeChambeau had signed up only to withdraw with what he said were sore wrists.
Also in the field are Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Harris English and Abraham Ancer, all among the top 20. The Sony Open also includes a pair of past champions from a generation ago, Jerry Kelly and Jim Furyk, who get to stay in Hawaii an extra week for the start of the PGA Tour Champions season over on the Big Island.
Simpson already has a U.S. Open and The Players Championship among his seven victories. He is not bothered by lack of length – it was encouraging to see Smith, hardly a power player, be able to produce a record score last week – and he sees 48-year-old Stewart Cink as an inspiration from winning twice last season.
”In my mind, I’ve got a good 10 years left,” Simpson said. ”Stewart Cink is giving me a lot of hope. He’s playing some awesome golf, winning golf tournaments in his mid-40s. If I can stay stay healthy and keep loving golf – I still love golf, which is a blessing. But I think playing less, having a smarter practice schedule at home, getting away from the game more has helped.”
He loves golf enough to watch tournaments he didn’t want to miss. Simpson recalls the last year he wasn’t eligible for the Masters, in 2011, and how he couldn’t wait to turn on the TV as soon as the telecast came on.
But the Ryder Cup? He has only missed 2016 – an American victory – in the last 10 years and was disappointed not to have given U.S. captain Steve Stricker enough reason to pick him.
”I didn’t know how I would be with Ryder Cup,” he said. ”We got closer, it was Friday morning, and it’s all I wanted to do. So I watched for two hours. I needed to practice, but I’d pause it, come back, watch it. I didn’t miss a shot.”
The only hard part was watching the U.S. celebration when it was over. Simpson has yet to play for a winning Ryder Cup team.
All he can do now is make it on the next team, and that’s a big one for him. The Presidents Cup is at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, his home course.
Simpson is at No. 20 in the standings. The American team is getting younger. Yet another reason to be at the Sony Open to start making up ground.
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