Simpson seizes share of lead

2012-05-04 07:47
Webb Simpson (AFP)

North Carolina - Webb Simpson admitted his pairing with Tiger Woods made him nervous on Thursday, but it didn't show as he seized a share of the first-round lead at the $6.5 million Wells Fargo Championship.

Simpson, playing with Woods and former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, chipped in for eagle at the par-four eighth hole at Quail Hollow and drained a 60-foot birdie putt at 12 en route to his seven-under par 65.

He was tied with former British Open champion Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore for the lead, with five more players - England's Brian Davis, Rickie Fowler, D.A. Points, Patrick Reed and Australian John Senden - a stroke back on 66.

"I was nervous playing with Tiger. I prayed a lot out there," said Simpson, who lives nearby. "Once I made a couple birdies, I kind of enjoyed it."

Scores were low in hot, humid weather, making for a crowded leaderboard. About half the field broke par.

Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jong, Brian Harman and Billy Mayfair were tied on 67, and another 13 players were tied on 68.

Former world number one Woods, making his first start since a disappointing tie for 40th at the Masters, couldn't capitalise on the conditions.

He bogeyed three of his first nine holes and finished with four birdies in a one-under 71.

"I've got to obviously not make those little mistakes like that tomorrow (Friday)," Woods said. "We've got a long way to go, and we've got some rain coming probably on the weekend, so we're going to have to go get it."

Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, capped his round with three successive birdies to notch his lowest round of the year.

Moore, like Cink, teed off on 10 and like Cink finished with three birdies.

"I think any time you get tour players in 90-degree weather with not much wind, it's naturally going to soften out the greens," Simpson said. "I think you've seen over the years, the hotter it is and the less wind there is, the scores are going to be really good."

Simpson, who had posted only two rounds in the 60s in his prior three starts here, wasn't sure what the difference was in his own game.

Simpson knew he was in for a demanding day in front of a big gallery after playing with Woods in the final round at Doral - where Woods withdrew after 11 holes with a sore Achilles tendon.

"We went from 10 000 people every hole to zero people," Simpson recalled.

While the big crowds came to see Woods, Simpson gave them plenty to applaud with birdies at the second, third and sixth.

He rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at 11, then picked up another birdie at the par-four 12th - where he fired out of the rough and through the trees to the back of the green.

Trying to get it close, Simpson could only laugh when he saw the putt slide into the cup.

"I play here a lot, and I knew where I hit it was pretty dead," he said. "So, yeah, I'll take it."

Phil Mickelson joined Woods on 71, despite a triple-bogey at the par-four fourth.

US Open champion Rory McIlroy, who captured his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow two years ago with a final-round 62, birdied three of the par-fives but closed his 70 with a bogey at 18.

Leading first-round scores on Thursday from the $6.5 million US PGA Tour Wells Fargo Championship (USA unless noted, par-72):

65 - Stewart Cink, Ryan Moore, Webb Simpson

66 - Brian Davis (GBR), Rickie Fowler, D.A. Points, Patrick Reed, John Senden (AUS)

67 - Brian Harman, Billy Mayfair, Brendon de Jonge (ZIM)

68 - Arjun Atwal (IND), Jonas Blixt (SWE), Roberto Castro, Martin Flores, Tommy Gainey, Hunter Haas, Rocco Mediate, Seung-yul Noh (KOR), Jeff Overton, Alexandre Rocha (BRA), Vijay Singh (FIJ), Kevin Stadler, Nick Watney

69 - Aaron Baddeley (AUS), Sang-Moon Bae (KOR), Jonathan Byrd, Ben Curtis, Chris DiMarco, Robert Garrigus, Ryuji Imada (JPN), Danny Lee (NZL), Carl Pettersson (SWE), Dicky Pride, Heath Slocum, Josh Teater, Cameron Tringale, Jimmy Walker


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