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Local favorite: Webb Simpson has momentum heading to Wyndham

by TG_Admin01

By STEVE HANF

GREENSBORO – You’ll have to excuse Webb Simpson for not possessing a long list of memories from Greensboro’s long-running PGA Tour stop.

As a top-level junior golfer, the North Carolina native tended to be busy playing golf rather than watching it. Simpson recalled attending the tournament as a 17-year-old and playing in a pro-am with Neal Lancaster – and that’s that.

Granted, the rising star on the PGA Tour would love to start making great memories when the Wyndham Championship comes to Sedgefield Country Club from Aug. 15-21. Simpson owns a couple of second-place finishes this year on Tour, but had yet to win as of mid-July.

“It would be awesome,” he said of notching a first Tour win at the Wyndham. “It would be so cool to win in front of a lot of friends and family. I like the golf course for my game. The people of Greensboro always are great, and they do a great job there.”

Tournament director Mark Brazil pointed to some unique history between the Wyndham and Webb, who will celebrate his 26th birthday a week prior to the Tour event at Sedgefield. Brazil knew Simpson as a talented youngster on the AJGA circuit, while Bobby Long, who serves as chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation Board that runs the tournament, knows Simpson’s parents well.

Simpson was born in Raleigh, starred at Broughton High School before earning All-American status at Wake Forest, and has plenty of family still in the Triangle and Triad.

“There’s a real friendship between our tournament and Webb,” Brazil said. “It’s a very special relationship. He’s a world-class golfer, but he’s also a world-class person, family man.”

Simpson and his wife, Dowd, welcomed son James into the world in February, a fact that has made 2011 an amazing year in multiple ways. When he hasn’t been busy watching James grow and develop a little every day, Simpson has played some amazing golf.

“Golf has been great, and that’s just a bonus to the year,” Simpson said. “I’m starting to get that itch really bad to win a golf tournament, so hopefully before the year is out I can win one of these things.”

Brazil, who enjoys playing the role of prognosticator each summer in advance of the Wyndham Championship, made the local star his pick to capture this year’s event.

“Here’s a guy who has won at every level,” Brazil said. “Junior golf, collegiate – he was a complete superstar at Wake Forest – amateur golf at the highest level. He’s my pick to win the Wyndham Championship this year, and as soon as he wins that first tournament, I think the floodgates are going to open. Over the course of his career I think he will be a top-10 player in the world.”

Simpson finds himself in the midst of the best year of his short career. He finished second at the Transitions Championship and second in a playoff to Bubba Watson at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans for the biggest payday of his career: $691,200. Simpson only missed two cuts through late July and played quite well in the two majors for which he qualified: tied for 14th at the U.S. Open and tied for 16th at the British.

The steady success left him ninth in FedExCup standings and 12th on the PGA Tour money list at $2,557,043 following the British Open.

This season’s success started building in 2010, when Simpson grabbed the first top-10 of his second year on tour with an eighth-place tie at Sedgefield. He opened with impressive rounds of 66 and 64, then rebounded from a 71 in the third round for a scorching 63 in the finale that left him at 16-under-par for the event.

“Last year we worked pretty hard the two weeks leading up (to the Wyndham), trying to prime my game,” Simpson said. “It was nice to see the work we had done pay off.”

On the heels of that showing, Simpson qualified for the first two FedExCup playoff events, then tied for fourth at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open. Those two big paydays helped put him just short of a million dollars for the season.

During his rookie year in 2009, Simpson opened strong, missed a number of cuts in the middle of the year, but had four top-10 finishes and landed 70th on the money list. Among his shorter outings of the season was the Wyndham. Simpson shot rounds of 72 and 71 to just miss the cut.

“You want to play well in front of your friends and family, but it wasn’t that big a deal,” Simpson said. “We play 30 tournaments a year, the playoffs were the next week. One thing we do hopefully is forget easily.”

That being said, a win at the Wyndham certainly would provide an unforgettable memory for a player who figures to be a fan favorite at the Triad’s PGA Tour stop for years to come.

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