PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Standing beside the clubhouse at Oak Hill Country Club after signing for his 64 on Friday, Webb Simpson was asked before the start of a TV interview if he knew that he'd tied the tournament course record co-held by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange. Simpson admitted that he didn't, but that can be forgiven.
After shooting a front-nine 40 yesterday during the opening round of the PGA Championship, course records certainly weren't on his mind.
"At 5 over through eight holes (Thursday), it was a pretty low moment for me," Simpson said. "But I kind of had a pep talk with myself on the seventh green, and you know, just told myself, 'One hole at a time,' and tried to get a birdie here and a birdie there. Somehow I played the last 10 or 11 holes under par."
In fact, the 2012 U.S. Open champion needed just 32 stokes to complete each of his next three nine-hole loops.
Simpson said that he became aware that shooting 63 — the lowest score ever posted at a major — was within grasp late in his round.
"I was thinking about it once I birdied 6 (his 15th hole)," Simpson said. "I was about 99 percent sure that it was 63. It's so hard because on one hand you want to go for it, you want the record, but you can't do that on a golf course this hard and I wasn't doing that at any point today. I was trying to be patient and trying to be conservative."
A hot putter gave Simpson the luxury to play conservatively with his irons and hitting into greens that were softened by rain Friday morning meant that approach shots, even with long clubs, weren't going to bound and jump after they landed.
After tapping in for a birdie on the 10th hole (his first), Simpson made a 15-footer on 11, a 10-footer on second hole and a 12-footer on third hole. Then he dropped in a 35-foot putt on the fifth hole that got the wheels in his head turning. But Simpson and his caddie, Paul Tesori, resisted the temptations to talk about records.
"When you try to make birdies, it seems like you don't," he said. "It was there. It's like the elephant in the room; I knew (Paul) was thinking about it. I haven't even talked to him, but I'm sure he was."
As the cliché goes, one of the toughest things to do in golf is shoot a good score after you've gone really low the day before. After shooting 61 on last Friday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods was only able to muster a 68 on Saturday.
Simpson has shot 64 eight times on the PGA Tour (he's shot four 63s) and his average score after those rounds is 70.63.
"It certainly changes my mentality," he said beside Oak Hill's practice green. "My confidence is back and I know that a 64 is special, so I've got to go out and be patient this weekend. Today I was extremely patient and it was one of those rounds when it just kind of happened. I didn't have to force anything and that's the biggest thing in a major championship, especially on a course as tough as Oak Hill."