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 leaderboard 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 Championship.
After a rain delay, he added birdies at the 14th and 16th holes 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,” Simpson said. “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 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he tied for 10th. That and another potentially strong week in West Virginia should keep the 2012 US Open winner on track to earn a spot on the American Ryder Cup team. Simpson is looking to make his third appearance for the US at Le Golf National, and his first appearance for the US in any team event since the 2014 Ryder Cup.
One behind is Whee Kim, whose 62 is also his career-low round on the US PGA Tour. After posting back-to-back top-five finishes late last year, Kim has struggled, missing 12 of his past 18 cuts and finishing no higher than T-22 at the Zurich Classic.
Joaquin Niemann continued the impressive start to his professional career 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 US Tour event a season ago, tieing 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. Danny Lee, a past winner here and the lone Kiwi in the field this week, sits at three-under.