When you pick up more than nine strokes on the field for the week in strokes gained/putting, it's easy to key in on your putter as the club that helped you win the tournament. This year I think I'm in the top 10. These past 4 1⁄2 years had been a hard grind.
It was also his best score under par since 2013, though he has played only sparingly in the ensuing five years while nursing a serious back injury.
He finished at 11 under and was in a tie for 11th when he finished, well behind the leaders but well ahead of where he thought he'd be in his latest comeback. The point is, he did not break. Not when Tiger Woods galvanized the entire TPC Sawgrass course with an adrenaline-drenched run that drew him within four shots of Simpson.
Searching for a signature win to validate his U.S. Open victory, Simpson found some magic as the 32-year-old finished 18 under overall.
"I think I was too closed-minded and just tried to learn a lot about putting and what's important, " he said. "And he's making everything [on the greens]". That's when his caddie, Paul Tesori, stepped up and gave his player a much-needed reality check. This marked an emotional scene for Simpson, whose father died at the end of a year ago. I hit it close at 17, wasn't able to make the putt, and then bogeyed 18 from the middle of the fairway.
On the famous par-3 17th, Woods came up short with his tee shot and wound up in the water, then didn't get up-and-down from the drop zone and walked off the peninsula with a double-bogey 5. That was no problem because he had banked such a lead, matching Greg Norman's mark for low three-round total of 19 under. He spoke of his father, Sam, who died last fall. "We miss him like insane".
The winner's wife, Dowd, had been home in North Carolina, taking care of the couple's four children, but she flew in for the final round. Had he done so, the image of a galloping Tiger Woods might have been sufficient to trigger Players Championship capitulation. Tesori, who has lived all his life near this course, was in tears at the trophy ceremony.
Last Saturday, he was eight under for his first 12 holes.
Although Simpson and others were given more than two years to get used to the change before it was written into law on January 1, 2016, the adjustment proved hard. You don't feel relaxed until that ball finds land on 17.
"It means everything to me". He gets the "well, he hasn't played well at this course recently" pass to pair with his "well, he provided us with a ton of content with those hilarious shirts" pass, but I'm intrigued by the next few months. By the time he got to the seventh, with four birdies on his card already, every inch at this course created to host large numbers appeared to have been filled. Yet that didn't stop him from signing autographs for a big group of kids afterwards and, along with many others at the moment, including a Woods who actually looks as though he's enjoying himself, golf really can be thankful to have such a terrific ambassador as the young Texan.