ATLANTA A year ago, Webb Simpson had a chance to win the $10 million FedEx Cup prize until the moment Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan wound up in a playoff for the Tour Championship trophy.
Simpson and his wife, Dowd, sat in the clubhouse at East Lake Golf Club near Luke Donald and his wife, Diane, while both couples awaited the outcome, ultimately leaving all four of them disappointed.
This year, Simpson’s FedEx Cup chances are long gone, blunted by nothing better than a tie for 18th in the Deutsche Bank Championship three weeks ago, leaving Simpson in 25th position in the season-ending money grab. Just getting to the 30-player finale at East Lake is an achievement, but Simpson is playing a supporting role this year.
There is, however, a U.S. Open trophy at home in Charlotte and a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will tangle with the Europeans next week in Chicago, career-crowning achievements for a guy barely a month past his 27th birthday.
“Last year and this year are two different years,” Simpson said Friday after a second-round 68 moved him into a tie for 12th, six shots behind 36-hole leader Jim Furyk.
“Last year I played so consistently all the way. I contended for the FedEx, contended for the money title. This year has been more extremes. I won a major championship but I’ve been more inconsistent.
“Only missing four cuts in a year-long season is pretty good. There’s a lot of positives I’ll take from this year. Winning a major only makes me want to get back to a major and try to win even more.”
Over the past 14 months, Simpson has gone from trying to prove he belongs on the PGA Tour to becoming a star.
Simpson’s game has gone relatively flat since his victory at The Olympic Club in June, though he took the lead into the final nine holes at The Greenbrier Championship in July. He also took a one-month break in mid-July for the birth of daughter, Willow.
He insists he’s not trying to play up to the label of major champion but has been a victim of his own mistakes.
A year ago, Simpson said, seemingly everything he and caddie Paul Tesori did on the golf course worked out well. This year, they’ve made a few mental errors.
It helps explain why he has just six top-10 finishes this year, half as many as last.
“I haven’t played as good as I would like since I’ve been back at it,” Simpson said. “But I’ll say the same thing as last year: I feel like we’re going the right direction still. Boston was a really good week. Barclays I didn’t putt well and Crooked Stick (the BMW Championship) I was just tired as could be.
“I’m playing good and feeling good. It’s a yearlong season now and it doesn’t end Sunday.”
On Monday, Simpson will begin his first Ryder Cup week. He played the Walker Cup as an amateur and the Presidents Cup in Australia last winter. The Ryder Cup, Simpson knows, is different.
“I’m excited,” Simpson said. “There’s so much besides the golf, so much fun stuff. Just hanging around, team bonding, cool clothes.”
What’s not to like?