Webb Simpson banking on home advantage at Quail Hollow
Rory McIlroy leads three-strong Irish contingent as he is joined by Darren Clarke and Pádraig Harrington
Rory McIlroy grimaces as he hits from the fairway to 16th green during the pro-am of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC. Photograph: AP Photo
Former US Open champion Webb Simpson is banking on home advantage at this week’s $6.9 million (€4.9m) Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina to help him reverse a run of poor form in his last six PGA Tour starts.
The 28-year-old American, who lives about a mile away from the clubhouse at Quail Hollow Club, made a barn-storming start to the 2013-14 season with four successive top-10s, including a victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
However, Simpson has mainly struggled over the past three months, and has missed two cuts in his last six appearances on the US circuit with a best strokeplay finish of joint 47th.
“I’ve got to tell myself all the time, it’s a game where you go in waves,” Simpson, whose best finish at Quail Hollow was in 2012 when he placed fourth, said while preparing for today’s opening round.
“Jimmy Walker’s super hot right now. He’s playing incredible golf. Maybe the best of anybody in the world.”
Fellow American Walker has won a season-high three times on the 2013-14 PGA Tour.
“Then you take a guy like Tiger Woods who has been the best player forever, and he even goes through the low slumps,” Simpson told reporters. “So all that to say, I’m not too worried. I never get too down. It gets frustrating, but it’s nice to be able to play every week. What we do is we get opportunities every week to start playing good again.”
Simpson, who clinched his fourth PGA Tour title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October by a commanding six shots, knows every inch of Quail Hollow where he spends a lot of time practising when he is back at home.
“I know different wind directions, pin placements,” said the American, whose world ranking has slipped to 29th from a career-high fifth following his US Open triumph in 2012.
“I think it hurt me the first couple years here. I put too much pressure on myself, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself this year.
“It’s more just I know that, hey, you know this golf course as good as anybody. So use that to your advantage.”
Simpson faces a strong challenge at Quail Hollow this week where the high-quality field includes players such as reigning US Open champion Justin Rose, 2010 winner Rory McIlroy and five-times major winner Phil Mickelson.
Quail Hollow has a special affinity to McIlroy. It was on this course in 2010 that he secured his breakthrough win on the US Tour – finishing with a final round 62 to spectacularly announce his arrival to the American golfing public – and, looking ahead, it will stage the US PGA championship in 2017.
McIlroy, who has dropped outside the world’s top-10, down to 11th, hasn’t played since his tied-eighth finish at the US Masters and is seeking his first win since capturing the Australian Open last November.
McIlroy leads a three-strong Irish contingent in Quail Hollow, where he is joined by Darren Clarke and Pádraig Harrington.
Harrington, who is 198th in the current FedEx Cup standings on the US Tour, missed the cut in both the Texas Open and the Houston Open in failing to get into the field for Augusta and returned to action in New Orleans last week where he barely made the cut and then just survived Saturday’s secondary cut before eventually finishing in tied-67th.
Mickelson and Rose will tee off today in a star-studded grouping along with former world number one Lee Westwood while Simpson has been paired with compatriot Zach Johnson and South African Ernie Els.