CHAMPIONS
Close Call for Webb in Phoenix February 6, 2017 By David Shefter, USGA

Webb Simpson narrowly missed out on his first PGA Tour victory since 2013 on Sunday. (USGA/JD Cuban)

At multiple times during Sunday’s final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale (Ariz.), it appeared a USGA champion would claim the title.

Byeong-Hun An, who in 2009 at the age of 17 years, 11 months and 13 days became the youngest champion in U.S. Amateur history, had extended his lead to three strokes. But then the 54-hole leader bogeyed the first two of holes of the inward nine and faded to a second-nine 40 to finish sixth at 14-under 270.

Then 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson got hot. The North Carolinian, who was seeking his first PGA Tour victory since the 2013 Shriners Hospital for Children Open, birdied three of his last four holes to forge a tie with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, at 17-under 267. The two would go to a playoff, where Simpson had chances to close the deal three separate times before Matsuyama prevailed on the fourth extra hole – the par-4 17th – by converting a 10-foot birdie putt. Matsuyama also won last year in a four-hole playoff over two-time USA Walker Cup competitor Rickie Fowler.

Simpson shot 65-64 over the weekend to give him some confidence that had been lacking in his game. Two weeks ago, he finished tied for 66th in the CareerBuilder Challenge in California.

“Two weeks ago, I was pretty lost,” said Simpson. “I went and saw [my instructor] Billy Harmon and he really helped me out. I started hitting it better. I feel like I have been putting pretty well for a few months now. So I showed up here a little more confident. I’m thankful that I made some putts and had a chance to win the golf tournament.”

Besides Simpson and An, two other USGA champions posted top-10 finishes. Three-time champion Jordan Spieth and 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar tied for ninth at 12-under 272, while 1990 U.S. Amateur champion Phil Mickelson got into contention on Sunday with four birdies on his outward nine, only to play his final nine holes in 4-over 40 to finish tied for 16th (274).

Across the world in another desert, a pair of U.S. Amateur champions – Matthew Fitzpatrick (2013) and Peter Uihlein (2010) – tied for fifth in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates. Fitzpatrick, who was paired with nine-time USGA champion Tiger Woods during the first round, shot 68-67 over the weekend, while Uihlein carded 70-68 for his second top-10 finish of 2017.

Woods, meanwhile, withdrew prior to the second round due to back spasms that he said were unrelated to the surgery that sidelined him for more than a year. Coming off a missed cut in last week’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, Woods opened with a 77 in Dubai.

His next scheduled start is the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, Feb. 16-19. Riviera will host the  U.S. Amateur in August.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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