At three under through nine holes of his opening round of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, Webb Simpson just needed a few more birdies to creep up near the top of the leader board and position himself for the final three rounds. Two birdies and an eagle later and Simpson was officially on 59 watch, territory he hasn't been unfamiliar with this season, flirting with a second-round 59 during his win at the Players.
Following a rain delay, he added birdies at 14 and 16 to get to nine under, needing just two more on the Old White TPC, a par 70. One bad shot at the par-5 17th ended his chances, and he parred the last two for a career-low 61. Not exactly disappointing, but he knew he had a shot to join that exclusive club.
"It's hard, because I'm trying to take it one shot at a time, make every shot the same as any other shot," said Simpson. "I knew that 59 was in there, but I had a bad second shot, the only shot I kind of regret hitting was the second shot on 17, laying up in the rough. That didn't really give me a chance to get at that left pin. But, it's alright, made two good pars after that."
Simpson, who looked unbeatable at TPC Sawgrass, has had arguably his worst stretch of the season since, missing two of three cuts for the first time this season. The lone made cut, however, came at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he tied for 10th. That and another potentially strong week in West Virginia should keep the 2012 U.S. Open winner on track to earn a spot on the American Ryder Cup team. Simpson is looking to make his third appearance for the U.S. at Le Golf National, and his first appearance for the U.S. in any team event since the 2014 Ryder Cup.
One back is Whee Kim, whose 62 is also his career-low round on the PGA Tour. After posting back-to-back top-five finishes in the fall, Kim has struggled, missing 12 of his last 18 cuts and finishing no higher than T-22 at the Zurich Classic.
Joaquin Niemann continued the impressive start to his professional career on Thursday with a seven-under 63, leaving him just two shots off the lead. It's his second appearance at the Greenbrier, where he played in his first PGA Tour event a season ago, tying for 29th thanks to a final-round 64.
Kelly Kraft is in solo fourth after a round of six-under 64. Keegan Bradley is among a group tied for fifth at five under, while Phil Mickelson is at four under.