Webb Simpson flirts with 59, but Joaquin Niemann could make history at Greenbrier
The Players champ and a Chilean teen are trading blows at a Military Tribute at the Greenbrier
Players Championship winner Webb Simpson flirted with a magical 59 for most of the afternoon of a Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, which was suspended for weather during the middle of his round. He "settled for" a 61 in the end with a par-par finish, but that puts him up one on Whee Kim (62) and Joaquin Niemann (63) after 18 holes at Old White TPC.
Simpson is looking for his second win of the season, which would mark his first multiple-win season since he took the Wyndham Championship and Deutsche Bank Championship in 2011. The 61 was the lowest round of Simpson's career and easily his best showing since that Players Championship runaway in which he opened 66-63 on the first two days.
Simpson is intriguing, especially in a Ryder Cup year, and his chase for 59 on Thursday was worthy of some side-eye emojis. But the player on this leaderboard that I'm most fascinated by is Niemann. He's two back, and sure, Simpson might roast him the rest of the way like he did to the field at TPC Sawgrass, but at age 19, Niemann is vying for some history we rarely ever see.
We become desensitized to how good teenagers are at sports for myriad reasons. We think of LeBron James or Bryce Harper, and because those guys are in the news so much, all of a sudden we start thinking that it's normal to perform at the highest level in a given sport for an extended period of time, even though it's not. It's not at all.
What Niemann has done so far this year is already incomprehensible. Four top 10s and special temporary membership on the PGA Tour is not a thing you're supposed to be doing when you're 22 and fresh out of college, much less 19 and fresh out of high school.
And yet, Niemann can't stop being in awe of those around him. It's an endearing quality, and it's one that will resonate if he happens to usurp Jordan Spieth this weekend as the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in the last 90 years.
"It's really nice, after I thought I was going to be in college this year," Niemann said. "So being out here and playing this well is really nice. Yeah, it's been nice after I played The Masters, and I just improved. The week after that I played in San Antonio, and ... I've been playing really good golf. Being out here on the PGA Tour with these guys [who] are really good at golf. So it's been good. I have enjoyed it [very] much.
"These guys are really good. I know they're going to go really low today or tomorrow. I mean, all week. So you know, just keep the same strategy and go low for tomorrow also."
Niemann shot a cool 32-31 on Thursday -- a day in which he was top 12 in both strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained putting. That's going to be a wicked combination to deal with over the weekend if the young Chilean can keep it up.
And it not, who cares. Again, he's playing with more house money than Phil Mickelson during a boys weekend to Las Vegas. Niemann will likely earn his 2018-19 PGA Tour card and the full-time status that goes with it with a few more solid finishes this year, and this week portends to be among them.
That elusive victory sits out there, so enticing, so compelling. Niemann certainly has the goods and the pedigree to get the job done, and wouldn't it be something if, in the year of the young, stupendous golfer, one that's (by far) younger than them all stole the pre-Open show.
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