WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — A chip-in for eagle and seven birdies gave Webb Simpson a career-low 61 on Thursday. A timely weather delay and one fortuitously located golf cart also helped make him the Greenbrier’s first-round leader.
“You never shoot 9 under thinking before the round ‘today is going to be my day,’ but overall a great solid day,” said Simpson, who admittedly daydreamed of becoming only the ninth player to post a sub-60 round on the PGA Tour.
Brilliant as Simpson was, he settled for pars on the final two holes and couldn’t distance himself from the opening-day pack. Whee Kim was close behind at 8-under and Juaquin Niemann stood two shots off at 63.
Simpson felt himself speeding up when his tee shot sliced into the trees on No. 13, but a lightning delay stopped play for almost two hours. He used the opportunity “to hit 30 or so balls” on the practice range and returned with better rhythm.
He still had to navigate the messy scenario on the par-4 13th hole, however, where his approach shot was headed for more trouble only to deflect off a cart. One kind bounce and a wedge later, Simpson sank a 5-foot putt to stay bogey-free.
“One of those miracle pars,” he said. “Somehow it stayed in play. If the cart wasn’t there it would’ve gone in the water and I’m dropping on a side hill and I’m lucky to make double-bogey.”
Simpson didn’t get off the course until after 8 p.m. and will face a 7:40 a.m. tee time Friday.
Kelly Kraft sat in fourth place at 6-under, with Keegan Bradley part of a foursome lurking at 5 under.
A pack of 15 golfers shot 4-under 66, including defending camp Xander Schauffele, who overcame back-to-back bogeys on holes 14 and 15.
“At first I was a little nervous because I want to repeat so bad,” Schauffele said. “Now I’m trying to think. ‘I did win here last year for whatever reason that was.’ I feel comfortable on this golf course, so I’m trying to turn my brain into that direction versus getting nervous.”
Reigning West Virginia State Amateur champion Sam O’Dell of Hurricane struggled early and finished 2-over.
“I didn’t hit very many solid shots on the first nine holes,” he said. “For how bad I hit it there at the beginning, it could’ve been worse than 72.”
The Greenbrier cut line typically settles around par.
“You’ve got to shoot 4-under (Friday) and hope you’ve gotta shot,” O’Dell said.
Harper’s Ferry resident David Bradshaw made four birdies but finished at even 70 after a double-bogey on No. 16.