Webb Simpson chipped in from 35 yards in front of the par-four eighth green for eagle, then made Tiger Woods shake his head and smile when he holed a 60-foot birdie putt that otherwise might have rolled off the 12th green to ensure he took a share of the first-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I was nervous playing with Tiger. I prayed a lot out there,” said Simpson, who shared the lead with Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore after a seven-under 65 on Thursday. Webb lives about 1.5km away from Quail Hollow and already was on edge about trying to perform well for the neighbors.
“Once I made a couple birdies, I kind of enjoyed it,” he said.
There was a lot to like for just about everyone on a steamy day in Carolina. Scoring conditions were so ideal that even par was over the cut line going into the second round. The average score was 71.72, the lowest for the first round in the 10-year history of the tournament.
Woods failed to take advantage. In his first tournament since a tie for 40th at the Masters — his worst performance as a pro at Augusta National — he made too many mistakes early and had to one-putt three of the last four greens for a 71.
“I’ve got to obviously not make those little mistakes like that tomorrow,” Woods said. “We’ve got a long way to go, and we’ve got some rain coming probably on the weekend, so we’re going to have to go get it.”
So many others did just that, including Cink, who has been mired in a slump. He ended an already solid day with three straight birdies, holing a 20-foot putt on the ninth for his lowest round of the year. Moore also birdied his last three holes.
Rickie Fowler, still searching for his first PGA Tour win in his third full season, led a group of five players at 66 that included Patrick Reed, the 21-year-old from Augusta State who on Monday qualified to get in the last two tournaments.
The scoring was so low that about one-quarter of the field shot in the 60s, and half of them broke par.
“I think any time you get tour players in 90o [Farenheit (32oC)] weather with not much wind, it’s naturally going to soften out the greens,” Simpson said. “I think you’ve seen over the years, the hotter it is and the less wind there is, the scores are going to be really good. And I think that’s what happened. They can’t get the greens too firm with this weather. It will just burn them out.”
He did not have much of an explanation for his own golf, considering he had only two rounds in the 60s in his previous three starts at Quail Hollow. Plus, there was that apprehension about playing with Woods, and the large crowd the 14-time major champion attracts.
The only other time Simpson played with Woods did not last long.
It was the final round of Doral this year, where Simpson jokingly said: “I accidentally kicked him in the leg and he withdrew.”
Woods left after 11 holes that day with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, which raised questions about his future until Woods won two weeks later at Bay Hill.
Eleven holes at Doral at least gave Simpson a taste of what to expect.
“We went from 10,000 people every hole to zero people,” he said.
Thousands of fans on a scorching day at Quail Hollow followed them around all afternoon, with Simpson and Geoff Ogilvy (71) in tow. Simpson is the one who generated most of the cheers. He stuffed his tee shot on the par-three -second and his approach on the third to inside 3 feet for birdies, holed a birdie putt just inside 30 feet on the sixth, and then chipped in for his eagle at No. 8.