The Players Championship 2018 leaderboard: Webb Simpson ties 54-hole scoring record
It will take a historic effort and collapse for Simpson to fall at TPC Sawgrass
Saturday at the 2018 Players Championship was about two different tournaments. The one Webb Simpson was playing, and the one everyone else was playing. Simpson backed up his 66-63 start with a 4-under 68 on Saturday to tie the 54-hole scoring record for this tournament at 19 under and take a seven-stroke lead into the final round on Sunday.
No one in PGA Tour history has failed to win an event with a seven-stroke lead entering the final 18 holes.
Simpson's third round was electric from the start. He pinned his first approach shot eight feet from the hole, made the birdie putt and was off to the races from there. He made just his second bogey of the week on the par-3 8th hole but followed that with birdie at the 9th and went out in 34. The most impressive shot of his day (and possibly the one that shut down this tournament) came on the par-5 11th.
After going long on his approach Simpson holed out for eagle from a narrow back bunker 99 feet from the cup. Normally that would be shocking, but on a week where Simpson has gained nearly six strokes on the field on shots around the green, it kind of wasn't.
That pushed his lead over the rest of the field to a preposterous eight strokes, but it shrank slightly coming home. Simpson played the final seven holes in even par with a three-putt bogey at the 14th and a filthy shot on the par-3 17th that led to birdie and felt like revenge after yesterday's double bogey. He punctuated it with a long par putt at the last hole and seemed to be one of the only golfers going anywhere on moving day. The lead swelled from five to seven by the end of the day. Danny Lee, a footnote at this point, is in second at 12 under.
"I was pretty satisfied," Simpson told Todd Lewis of Golf Channel. "After what happened yesterday on 17, I wanted to play a good solid hole and I did that. On 18, it was a bonus to make that putt. Today was a little more survival feeling."
I had questions going into Saturday after Simpson built his lead mostly with his putter and short game. That's sometimes unsustainable, but Simpson delivered answers with his iron play and approach shots. He gained multiple strokes on the field on approach shots and was mostly average with the putter. That's actually a good sign going into Sunday.
"[This round prepared me] a good amount," Simpson added. "Today was more 'I'm in the lead, I'm in the last group.' You have to hit shots and putts. I want to approach tomorrow just like I did today. All in all, you try and repeat how you're feeling [on all four days]."
It's not over, I suppose, but man it feels over. Simpson stood up to several major champions on Saturday and swatted away their feeble attempts at cutting into his monstrous lead. Only a disastrous final round stands between him and the second-biggest victory of his career. It could still happen, of course. Dustin Johnson, who trails by nine, could shoot 61 and Simpson shoot 72. But Simpson is the -700 favorite.
Now Simpson will go for the all-time scoring record of 24-under 64 set by Greg Norman in 1994. He'll need a 5-under 67 on Sunday to tie it and a 6-under 66 to break it. But Simpson likely isn't focused on records and numbers; he's focused on closing what he started.
This Saturday was always about Sunday. The only questions were "how big would Simpson's lead be?" and "Who would get close to him?" The answers, respectively, are "massive" and "nobody."
Sunday should be a nice stroll for Simpson on a track he's wrestled to the ground over the first three rounds. If it's not, though, there will be several golfers sitting (way) back looking to overtake him at the finish line. Here's a look at a few of them.
2. Danny Lee (-12): Lee had a double, an eagle and five birdies on the back nine on Saturday. He's also 179th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained and has zero top-50 finishes this calendar year. Golf, man.
3. Dustin Johnson (-10): D.J. was awesome coming home with a 33 and in most tournaments would probably be the favorite going into Sunday. Unfortunately for him, Simpson looks like he's playing an entirely different event. It will take something special on Sunday afternoon for Johnson to have a real chance, and that won't be enough unless Simpson falters. Still, D.J. has the most horsepower of the chasers and thus the best shot to upend the leader.
T4. Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Xander Schauffele, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel (-9): Dufner pretty easily had the best day out of anyone in this group with a 6-under 66, but it's difficult to see anyone here running down Simpson from 10 back and beating Johnson by a pair. While we're here, I think Schauffele should get more love than he does. He's 24, might be an American superstar and has a chance of making it to Paris for the 2018 Ryder Cup. We should talk about him more than we do.
T9. Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Tiger Woods, Tommy Fleetwood, Harold Varner III, Ian Poulter, Matt Kuchar (-8): What a crew. Woods and Spieth tied for the low round of the day on Saturday and gave themselves a "if I shoot an historic 60 on Sunday" chance in the final round. Also, I'm here for Poulter trying to burn Sawgrass to the ground on Sunday as he racks up more Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup and OWGR points and tries to snag that $1.2 million second place money.
It was amazing to me that the 65s Woods and Spieth shot held up all day. Woods insisted that somebody would go lower later in the day, but only Dufner even got within one of their numbers. If Woods or Spieth, who are playing together, post that again on Sunday, they might have a chance depending on how Simpson plays coming home.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Saturday, and you can read our notes and thoughts below. If you are unable to view the updates below, please click here.
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