From the time he teed off at the Ryder Cup on Friday morning to the final hole in Sunday’s singles play, the bright spots were few and far between for Raleigh native Webb Simpson this weekend at Gleneagles.
The 2012 U.S. Open winner played in only two of five possible matches during the weekend, losing with U.S. teammate Bubba Watson 5 and 4 in Friday’s four-ball competition, and managing a singles tie Sunday against Europe’s Ian Poulter. Simpson’s half-point was part of only 11 1/2 points for the Americans, who never threatened the favored Europeans in a five-point loss.
“It stings that we lost again, but Europe played great all week,” Simpson told The News & Observer on the 18th green Sunday.
Simpson’s misfortune started on the first tee box Friday. Simpson was introduced as his playing partner by legendary European announcer Ivor Robson. The mistake caused Simpson and Watson to double-take before Simpson stepped up to his ball.
“I noticed he said Bubba Watson,” Simpson said with a laugh, “And I glanced over at Bubba like, ‘Well, maybe you’re supposed to hit first then.’ ”
Using a fairway wood, Simpson sent his tee shot, the first of the Ryder Cup, sky high. When it landed, less than 200 yards away, it barely had reached the 429-yard, par-4 hole’s fairway.
“He just popped it up,” Watson told the News & Observer. “I was a little shocked when I first saw it, but I guess that happens sometimes.”
After a morning four-ball loss to Europe’s Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, Simpson, 29, was one of four Americans left out of Friday afternoon’s foursomes competition. On Saturday, the Wake Forest alum didn’t play at all.
“I didn’t think Webb played very well Friday, and I thought we had other guys in better position to get points for us,” U.S. captain Tom Watson said.
Simpson was excluded from both the Saturday morning four-ball and afternoon foursome rounds, and he didn’t have a shot at redemption until Sunday’s singles.
Slotted ninth in the 12-man lineup, Simpson faced Ian Poulter – a Ryder Cup legend who defeated Simpson in Europe’s infamous 2012 Miracle at Medinah (Ill.) Ryder Cup comeback.
“I was really excited to get that pairing,” Simpson said. “He got me the first time we played.”
Sunday’s round started off ugly – the Simpson was 2 over and Poulter 3 over par after five holes, with Simpson 1-up.
“It was tough to get momentum going after sitting three matches in a row,” Simpson said of his start.
Poulter responded with birdies on the seventh, eighth and ninth holes to lead 2-up at the turn. But Simpson nailed a lengthy 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 10th for birdie, swinging the momentum in his favor.
“My game finally came around, and I was thankful to make some birdies,” he said.
With birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 16, Simpson pulled the match back to all square. A two-putt par at the par-3 17th earned Simpson a 1-up lead after Poulter found the greenside bunker off the tee and bogeyed the hole.
With a chance to win the match at the par-5 18th, Simpson’s 15-foot birdie putt went right of the cup. Poulter sent an eagle putt close enough to earn a conceded birdie and halve the match.
“I’m happy to at least get a half out of it when I was two down with a few to play,” Simpson said. “I think once Europe clinched it, my desire to beat him faded a little bit, because our match essentially didn’t matter.”
Simpson said he hopes to play in future Ryder Cups, but for now he is thinking only of getting some rest.
“I got a couple weeks off before Vegas,” Simpson said, referring to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Oct. 15-19, an event he won in 2013. “And then my real offseason will come in November and December.”