Webb Simpson played beyond his years at U.S. Open

Posted: June 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO - It could be argued that Webb Simpson was too young or too inexperienced to win a major championship, especially by having to chase the best players in golf to win the U.S. Open over the diabolical Lake Course at the Olympic Club.

However, it's an argument that doesn't fly any more.

The 26-year-old Simpson became the ninth different first-time winner of a major Sunday after calming his nerves enough to rally from a 4-stroke deficit at the start of the day and overcome a host of veteran players.

Of those nine previous winners, Simpson is the seventh 30 or younger to claim a major going back to Graeme McDowell's 2010 Open victory at Pebble Beach. For Simpson, a former Wake Forest star, the victory by Keegan Bradley, then 25, at last year's PGA got him thinking he might win a big one.

"I respect Keegan's game a ton," Simpson said at his post-round news conference, "but I feel like: Keegan Bradley won one, I want to go win one.

"All these guys have won before me. I thought, 'I played with these guys all my life.' I want to win a tournament. They're great players, but I want to do what they're doing. Everybody is so competitive in this world that we just kind of feed off each other."

Simpson's breakthrough year on the PGA Tour came in 2011 when he won two events and finished second on the money list. He came into this year looking to take his game to another level, even if it meant taking a couple of steps back in tournament finishes to do it.

Simpson showed he had the game all weekend with a 68-68 finish. He established his candidacy Sunday for the Nicklaus Medal with four birdies in a five-hole stretch during the middle of his round. He finished with eight steely pars to eventually grab the lead when Jim Furyk, the 54-hole leader, faltered.

Furyk fell out of a share of the lead with Simpson at the par-5 16th, when he hooked his drive into trees and bogeyed. Needing a birdie to tie, he parred 17 and knocked his approach to the 18th in a bunker. He made bogey and closed with a 74.

"I know I let one slide today," said Furyk, who was born in West Chester and grew up in the Lancaster area. "But hey, Webb went out there and got it. He went out and shot 68, and to do that on this golf course on a Sunday is phenomenal. He's a very good player and a good person, so I'm very happy for him and Dowd [Simpson's wife]."

Some of the usual suspects were not to be found in contention at this Open.

From holding a share of the 36-hole lead with Furyk and David Toms, Tiger Woods fell precipitously on the weekend. He stood 6-over through the first six holes of his final round and finished in a tie for 21st.

Phil Mickelson hit his very first drive of the championship into a tree bordering the right side of the ninth fairway. That was a truly bad omen. He tied for 65th at 16-over par.

Masters champion Bubba Watson missed the cut, as did defending champion Rory McIlroy and the only player above McIlroy in the world golf rankings, No. 1 Luke Donald.

But there is no way you can sell Simpson's victory short. He sent a signal of what was to come in Saturday's third round with five birdies in a round of 68, and matched that 68 in the fog, mist, and enormous pressure of the final 18 in an Open.

"I believed in myself that I could win a major, but maybe not so soon," Simpson said. "This is my fifth. And I just gained all the respect for the guys who have won multiple majors, because it's so hard to do. The level of pressure is so much greater than a regular event."

At this point, Simpson isn't sure if he will be making the trip to Royal Lytham and St. Anne's for next month's British Open. His wife is seven months pregnant and he said Sunday, "We're going to go back home and evaluate it."

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, "Golf Inq," at philly.com/sports/golfinq

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