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Webb Simpson can’t stop Rory McIlroy’s charge at Quail Hollow

Webb Simpson hits a shot from a sand bunker along the fourth green during the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Quail Hollow Club.
Webb Simpson hits a shot from a sand bunker along the fourth green during the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Quail Hollow Club. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Webb Simpson wanted to make the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship exciting for fans.

Simpson, a Quail Hollow Club resident and Raleigh native, knew the weight the final group carried Sunday. There was Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 golfer, and there was the Charlotte resident in what was a dream pairing for tournament organizers.

But Simpson never got going, and his early struggles only made for one of the more anticlimactic finishes in the recent history at Quail Hollow.

“He’s our best player right now and I wish more than anything I could have shot a couple under on the front and made it more exciting,” said Simpson, whose even-par 72 round kept him at 14 under and a second-place tie with Patrick Rodgers. “I just didn’t feel it today.”

Simpson started the day four shots behind McIlroy and quickly went to five strokes down when he bogeyed the par-4 first.

He earned it back at the par-3 second when he holed his 32-foot putt from off the green. Meanwhile, McIlroy carded a bogey and the crowd felt an early energy with a three-stroke difference between the players.

“I birdied there and he missed his putt, so it was a good feeling to get a couple back that I didn’t expect, but still had a long way to go,” Simpson said.

He said he was too loose with his drives off the tee, and that doomed him in the first six holes. He bogeyed the par-4 third and then three-putted on the par-3 sixth to double bogey.

“Through six, I had made so many mistakes, probably more mistakes than I had all week,” Simpson said. “That was just kind of a killer to be a couple over through six with Rory playing pretty solid.”

McIlroy was coming off a course-record 61 on Saturday, and there were no indications he’d have a letdown Sunday. Simpson knew before the round began that he’d have to shoot a low score to have a chance.

That meant a strong front nine so that he could turn aggressive on the back nine if needed. His 1-over play on the front nine put that to rest.

“It’s tough,” Simpson admitted of playing catch-up to McIlroy. “You never expect him to hit bad shots, so you’ve got to be that much sharper and that much on your game.”

McIlroy called this win “boring” compared to the first time he won in 2010, when he shot 62 in the final round to beat Phil Mickelson by four strokes. Indeed, when McIlroy got on the tee box at No. 17, he was ahead by eight strokes on the field and was aiming anywhere but left and into the water.

Still, there were positives for Simpson this week. He feels his fundamentals, ball-striking and even putting – despite a bad putting day Sunday – are all getting better.

“Confidence-wise, I still feel I’m kind of moving in the right direction,” Simpson said. “That’s all I wanted out of this season more than anything.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9