AUGUSTA, Ga. — Webb Simpson finally deciphered Augusta National Golf Club during the weekend of last year’s Masters Tournament, turning in a then-career-low 67 in the final round to shoot consecutive rounds under par for the first time in seven appearances. You wouldn’t have known it, however, by the way he began this year’s Masters, putting up middling scores of 72 and 71. Chalk it up to a balky putter, something Simpson managed to solve on Saturday as he worked his way into final-round contention for the first time at Augusta.
Simpson played his last 12 holes on Saturday in eight under par for a 64, tied for low round of the day with Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau. In seven previous Masters starts, the North Carolina native never stood higher than 24th through 54 holes, which he did in his debut in 2012. But the 33-year-old will begin Sunday in one of the final few groups after posting nine-under 207.
“I just kind of had a talk with myself going back to 7 tee thinking [after bogey at No. 6] about all my bad shots this week have been just some poor thinking and not being really committed to what I decided to do,” Simpson said. “And I just said, ‘Hey, if you stay fully committed the rest of the day, you're swinging great, you’re putting well, you’re going to make birdies,’ and that’s what I did.”
Saturday’s was a special round. Simpson, who came into the week with a 73.27 stroke average at Augusta National, hit all 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation on a day marked by soft greens and softer breezes. The difference was a hot putter. He converted seven birdies and an eagle sticking to his game plan: play to safe spots, accept 15-20 footers. And then hole some putts. He needed only 27 of them.
“It was a fun day,” said Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori, who watched it all up close.
And that’s what he mostly did–watch. After two frustrating days on the greens, Simpson decided to read the greens himself and then bring in Tesori to confirm the direction of Rae’s Creek, towards which most putts tend to break.
“I just basically stood behind him and said, ‘yes’ all day,” said Tesori, who figured it had been four year since he did not help Simpson read the greens. “He just filled it up for a change.”
“I was confident after yesterday,” Simpson said. “I had hit it really well through two days and didn't make anything. And so I felt good that I was going to hit it well again, and we just had to kind of tweak the way we were reading these greens. The first day I missed every putt on Rae's Creek side and then yesterday I think I was over thinking the reads with Rae's Creek, so we just simplified it today.”
With all that solved, Simpson, whose best previous Masters finish was T-20 last year, now has to gird for a pressure-filled day that could bring him a second major title. He could not wait.
“I've never had a chance here and never taken it deep here,” Simpson said. “So, it's nice—it's always nice to have a chance at any tournament, but it's pretty special here.”