Webb Simpson has set up Sunday at the Player Championship as nothing more than a victory lap around the TPC Sawgrass, provided he avoids the crash-and-burn on a course that doesn’t countenance carelessness.
Simpson began the third round with a five-stroke lead and ended it with a seven-stroke lead on Saturday. It is not insurmountable, but it is a gap that no one in pursuit can erase without Simpson’s participation.
Based on his having a U.S. Open victory on his resume and how he played in a round of four-under-par 68 in the wake of a nine-under 63 on Friday, Simpson does not seem inclined to backpedal. He has made only two bogeys and one double bogey in 54 holes and is at 19-under-par 197, equaling Greg Norman's tournament record.
He also has made two eagles, the second of them when he holed a 99-foot bunker shot at the par-5 11th hole on Saturday that increased his lead at the time to eight. He gave one back with a bogey at 14, but made amends with a brilliant shot to three feet of the hole at the par-3 17th hole, where he had made double bogey the day before.
“I was pretty satisfied,” he said. “I felt like I was going on very nicely, but after what happened yesterday on 17, I wanted to play a good solid hole and I did that, made birdie. All in all, pretty satisfied. Different feeling today. A little more survival feeling. Pretty happy with today.”
Simpson was helped by the fact that no one among his closest pursuers kept pace with him. Danny Lee, who was among those tied for second at the outset of the third round, is alone in second following a round of two-under 70. Dustin Johnson, who shared the first-round lead with Simpson, among others, is alone in third, nine shots back.
"Just got to keep my hat down and play my own game," Lee said. "Nineteen under, that's an impressive three rounds, I think. It's going very, very well for him."
The two best rounds of the day were the seven-under 65s posted by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth in the morning that vaulted them into a tie for eighth that were it not for Simpson would be in contention. As it is, they each trail by 11 strokes.