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U.S. Open: For Webb Simpson, confidence is key

Twenty-five-year-old shot a 5-under par 66 in the third round

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2011

So far, the U.S. Open belongs to Rory McIlroy. But during third-round action on Saturday, Webb Simpson managed to steal a few headlines. Simpson shot a 5-under par 66 in the third round on Saturday, after shooting 75 in round one and 71 in round two, and barely making the cut at 4-over par.

"I feel good," Simpson said after completing his third round on Saturday. "I bogeyed my first three holes this week and I really struggled Thursday and Friday. I've had a tough time getting going this year. But I knew if we made the cut we could make a pretty good run this weekend."

Credit the sporadic rain showers for softening up the greens, or the confidence of making the cut, but scores dropped all across the board in Saturday's third round. Simpson's round vaulted him from 4-over par to 1-under par heading into Sunday's final round.

"I putted well Thursday and Friday which helped me make the cut, but today I started hitting better shots and more fairways," Simpson said. "When you give yourself 10 or 11 times on the fairway and the greens are soft, you're going to get plenty of opportunities, so that's what I did today."

In one of the tournament's lighter moments, Simpson hit a shot on 18 that landed in a fan's lap. It was a first for Simpson, and the amused fan who sat cross-legged just inside the rope and didn't move until things got sorted out. Simpson took par for the hole.

"I've never had a ball end up in somebody's lap. It reminded me of [the movie] 'Happy Gilmore,'" Simpson said. "It ended up being a good break, just to the right of the trees. The rough there wasn't high; it was laid down, so it was a pretty good break."

The 25-year-old native of Charlotte, N.C., is playing in his first U.S. Open, and he admitted to having a few jitters the first two days.

"I was nervous. I was actually a little more nervous than I thought I would be," Simpson said. "I've heard a few guys this week, major champions, say that the pressure is just a lot more in a major which is refreshing, cause I was wondering if it was just me."

If his nerves affected him in rounds one and two, he clearly overcame them by round three, scoring birdies on seven holes, shooting par on nine, and scoring bogey's only twice, on rounds 11 and 13, when he had to take a penalty stroke when his ball moved after he addressed it with his putter.

"It was unfortunate, but I think it really made me committed to try and finish strong. I made a couple of good birdies coming in," Simpson said.

It's happened to Simpson twice before during his pro career, and once as an amateur; often enough that the U.S. Golf Association is looking at a rule change to give players some leeway when outside forces cause a ball to move.

Perhaps it will be called the Webb Simpson rule.

As for his performance through three rounds, Simpson seems grateful for the chance to keep improving his game before his next major tournament.

"I think the next major will be that much better. I won't be quite as nervous. One thing I've learned being in contention a couple of times is that experience is everything," Simpson said.

"I feel a little more comfortable every time I get in contention, or every time I'm trying to make a birdie to make a cut. I think Coach Hass told me [at Wake Forest] — the only important thing for a golfer is that you're always getting better," Simpson said.

A pro for a scant three years now, Simpson's best finishes this year are second place in both the Transitions Championship and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in which he lost in a playoff.

"Last year, I thought I was a better player, and I wasn't. The results just weren't showing it at all," Simpson said. "But I just kept thinking that and kept growing, so I think this year has been good to really see that come to fruition.

"I feel great. I feel like every aspect of my game is getting better. My caddie is helping me a lot this year and the important thing is we're going in the right direction."

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