Simpson in contention to defend Shriners title


Webb Simpson's love affair with TPC Summerlin is alive and well.

A year after Simpson cruised to a six-shot win at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, he is again near the top of the leaderboard after a 6-under 65. At 8 under through 36 holes, he sits two shots off the pace set by Andrew Putnam and Russell Knox.

Simpson finished his second round without making a bogey, and the score lowers his stroke average at this event to a moderately ridiculous 65.8 since 2010. That stretch includes his victory last year, as well as a tie for fourth four years ago.

For a North Carolinian, Simpson has had no trouble adjusting to life in the Las Vegas desert one week out of the year.

"I think I love this golf course because it reminds me of the course I grew up playing," Simpson told reporters Wednesday. "You have a lot of options off the tee, and greens are undulating and fast. So I'm just comfortable here, comfortable playing this kind of golf."

Simpson appears ready to challenge for the trophy that he took home a year ago, and his start to the week at TPC Summerlin continues a feast-or-famine trend for the 29-year-old. Since June, Simpson has only five top-25 finishes, but three of them went for top-five results: a third-place finish at the Greenbrier Classic, T-3 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and a tie for fifth at the Wyndham Championship.

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The valleys, though, have been rather low: missed cuts at three of the four majors in 2014, plus an early exit at The Players Championship and Simpson's less-than-impressive stint at last month's Ryder Cup. After failing to contribute during an opening-match loss with Bubba Watson, he sat out until Sunday's singles matches, departing Scotland with an 0-1-1 individual record and this week describing the golf portion of the event as a "terrible experience."

This marks Simpson's first start of the new season, and his first tournament since Gleneagles. Like many of the game's top players, he cited fatigue as the cause of some of his late-season struggles and is optimistic about teeing it up with more gas in the tank.

"I think I played too much golf last year," he said. "I got into a swing funk, kind of March and April. It took me awhile to figure it out, and I finally did start hitting it better. I putted really well the first half of the season, struggled a little bit towards the end, so I kind of flip-flopped those two parts of my game. But what I needed was to get away from the game. I needed a break."

A successful title defense is now in sight, as Simpson is the only player among the top 28 after two rounds with a major title to his name. Still, the competition this weekend at TPC Summerlin will include former FedEx Cup champ Brandt Snedeker and former Shriners winner George McNeill, who are both alongside Simpson at 8 under, not to mention Martin Laird, who tied for third last week and has three PGA Tour wins.

Las Vegas is a town built upon the placement of flawed wagers, but this appears to be a sure thing: when it comes to TPC Summerlin, Simpson feels right at home. Bet on that trend to continue this weekend.