Wyndham finds a new hero close to home
by Ogi Overman at the Jamestown News…..Thanks to Ogi, former Greensboro Sports Page associate, for sending this our way…..
The first three rounds of the 2011 edition of the Wyndham Championship
had more drama than a daytime soap opera, more plots and subplots than
a penny novel and, finally, a bizarre, last-minute twist that would do
O. Henry proud.
The fourth round had Webb Simpson.
The soft-spoken, good-looking, devout Christian, 26-year-old Wake
Forest grad rode a bogey-free, three-birdie round into his first PGA
Tour victory. The only thing remarkable about it was that it was so
unremarkable, so workmanlike. No one charged, no one faltered, as
Simpson turned his two-stroke advantage into a three-stroke win that
was essentially over when he birdied 15 and 16. But it was what got
him to that point that was so remarkable, spectacular bordering on the
Ironically, the pivotal point of the entire tournament was seen only
by those in attendance. A late-Saturday shower necessitated an
hour-plus rain delay, which meant CBS’s coverage ended at 6:00 p.m.
with at least eight twosomes still on the course. It was during that
span that Simpson caught fire, gaining six strokes in five holes with
four birdies and an eagle. Sunday’s round was a rather routine
succession of pars and one birdie, until a birdie on 15 gave him a
two-stroke cushion over George McNeill, the clubhouse leader. Another
birdie on 16, with a curving 15-footer, put him three up with two to
play, making the finish rather anti-climactic.
“Once I put it in the fairway (on 18) I pretty much knew I had it,” he
said. “I hadn’t asked my caddie where we were all day until I made the
putt at 15, and he said ‘we’re two up.'”
Since America missed the five holes that turned Simpson from a
youngster with potential into a household name, he was happy to
explain them in detail.
“I played two really good shots on 13 to about seven feet, made
birdie. On 14 I hit a good drive and had a pitching wedge and hit it
about 45 feet behind the hole. That was kind of the first bomb I made
“Then 15, I played two good shots. Hit a 5-iron to about five feet,
made eagle. That was real exciting. Sixteen I made a pretty good swing
with the 8-iron to about 15 feet and made that for birdie. And then
17, I hit a driver and a lob wedge to about 15 feet again and made
“And then at 18 was kind of fun. I hit an 8-iron to 15 feet pin-high
and left on the front lip. It would have been nice to make (birdie) on
18 but I didn’t want to get greedy.”
Given the relatively star-studded field, it seemed unlikely that the
Wyndham, a tourney with a history of first-time winners, would produce
yet another this year. But Simpson proved the smart money wrong. He
became the 12th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year. The
favorite son picked up $936,000 and rocketed from 12th to third in the
FedEx Cup standings.
Yet another favorite son, Carl Pettersson, who grew up in Greensboro,
graduating from Grimsley and N.C. State and who won here three years
ago, carded the low Saturday round with a 63 and flirted with the lead
much of Sunday. Given that five of the last six players on the course
had never won – Pettersson being the exception – many observers made
him the odds-on favorite down the stretch. But bogeys at 10 and 18
pushed him to 69, good only for a 267, five strokes back.
Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, a plain-spoken country boy from South
Carolina with an unorthodox swing, was developing a cult following of
his own. He had the lead after two rounds and still held it when
Simpson began his run, but ended the day two strokes behind. He fell
off the leader board with three bogeys and a double bogey in six
holes, got back on it with four straight birdies, and wound up at 69
in third place.
George McNeill made the only real charge Sunday, coming out of
nowhere, six back at 9 under, before firing a 64 to finish at 265,
good for second place.
It all started with the best field since the good old days when the
GGO called Sedgefield home, and ended with many of the big names back
home and many of the no-names battling for the Sam Snead Cup. After
the Friday cuts were made, if one did not know any better, the lists
of those making the cut and those who missed it could have been
reversed. Granted, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Vijay
Singh were still in it at the end, but the list of weekend no-shows
had almost as many heavy hitters. It included defending champ Arjun
Atwal, 2007 winner Brandt Snedeker and two-time winner Rocco Mediate,
as well as such luminaries as Angel Cabrera, Boo Weekley, Ben Curtis,
Chris DeMarco, Anthony Kim, Trevor Immelman, Bill Haas, and last
week’s hard-luck PGA runner-up Jason Dufner. It also included
sentimental favorite Olafur Loftsson, an Icelander who was the first
of his countrymen to play in a PGA Tour event. He missed the cut by
one stroke, but the contingent of six Icelandic journalists covering
him stayed for the weekend anyway.
In the end it came down to another sentimental favorite and favorite
son with a large contingent. Given the strength of the field, another
first-time winner seemed unlikely, but Simpson proved the naysayers
wrong. His three-stroke victory was the largest margin since Shigeki
Marmuyama won by five in 2003.
Among the milestones, this year’s Wyndham marked the fourth straight
year – all of them at Sedgefield – that the final round was a sellout.
The third round was also a sellout, the first time since the inaugural
year in ’08 that both weekend days sold out. Once the strength of the
field came into focus the past week, an additional 4,000 tickets were
printed, bringing the total to 29,000. This comes a month after
Wyndham Worldwide announced a four-year extension of their sponsorship
agreement, ensuring the tourney stays here at least through 2016.
Not surprisingly, tournament director Mark Brazil was ecstatic with
the four-day totals, on and off the course.
“The leaderboard, the crowds and the golf were off the charts,” he
smiled. “This was easily the biggest weekend the Wyndham has had in
the last 10 years. It keeps getting better and better, but it doesn’t
get any better than this.”
Until, of course, next year.