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Webb Simpson excels with eyes wide open at WGC Workday

Webb Simpson at 2021 WGC Workday Championship
Webb Simpson pays attention to his surroundings in scouting out The Concession Golf Club as he shoots 66 for a share of the 1st-round lead Thursday at the WGC Workday Championship.

Seeing Concession Golf Club for 1st time, Simpson and caddie do their homework, posting 66 to share lead with Matthew Fitzpatrick

Like nearly all of the competitors at the WGC Workday Championship, Webb Simpson was seeing The Concession Golf Club for the first time.

The course, near Bradenton, Fla., was a late replacement for Mexico City’s Chapultepec Golf Club, which typically hosts the PGA Tour’s first World Golf Championships event of the year. COVID-19 and the resulting travel complications changed those plans.

Enter Concession, a 2006 Jack Nicklaus-Tony Jacklin design.

Simpson and his longtime caddie, Paul Tesori, arrived in southwest Florida with a different game plan than they bring to most of their PGA Tour stops, where they know the courses as annual sites.

“We were a little slow in our practice rounds,” said Simpson, who arrived at Concession on Tuesday. “There was more to talk about, more conversation. We do have a system of how we plot golf courses, and so we still did that the same way we always do. We just took our time a little more and tried to be a little more observant on the greens and around the greens. “We go to some of these courses, and we don't even talk about anything, because we know where to hit it; we know where to miss it. Here, we say, every tee shot, if we're downwind, what are we doing? If we're into the wind, what are we doing? And then around the greens, he's already done his work without me, so I'm kind of double-checking what he's doing and agreeing with him.”

The preparation paid off. Simpson birdied three of his final four holes to shoot 6-under 66 and share the lead with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick. Americans Brooks Koepka, Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner were tied with Spain’s Sergio Garcia for third place at 67 (scores).

A few of the world highest-ranked players struggled at Concession. No. 3 Justin Thomas (73), No. 1 Dustin Johnson (77) and No 10 Bryson DeChambeau (77) were over par. DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAA title at Concession as a junior at Southern Methodist.

The 72-man, no-cut $10.5 million event, with $1.82 million to go to the winner, is the first of four consecutive events in Florida.

“The course is fantastic. It's firm. I was hoping it would get firm and fast. It takes that lengthy scorecard [7,564 yards] down a little bit,” said Simpson, who ranks 133rd in driving distance, at 293.7 yards.

Simpson owns only one top-10 finish in three starts this year, a T-4 at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. At 35, he is looking for his eighth victory on the PGA Tour and his first since winning the RBC Heritage on June 21. The 2012 U.S. Open champion ranks No. 9 in the world.

Fitzpatrick, 26, is a six-time winner on the European Tour, including the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in late December. He is looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour but entered the week in good form after a T-5 last week in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, which bumped him to a career-high 16th in the world ranking.

Like Simpson, Fitzpatrick applied a surgical strategy around a course that he had not seen before Tuesday. “My big thing was just to get lines off tees and just scout the areas around the greens, see where to miss, where not to miss to certain flags and take it from there, really,” he said.

“There's not many flags out there today where you can go at it, just because the misses are so penal if you miss it on short-side. So that's been the big positive for me today is that I feel like my irons were good and I hit them in the right spots.”

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