By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Webb Simpson grew up in North Carolina, and his favorite memory of the Wyndham Championship was caddying for Neal Lancaster as a teenager during a pro-am.
That might change now that he’s won the tournament.
Simpson claimed his first PGA Tour title Sunday, shooting a 3-under 67 to win by three strokes.
The 26-year-old Raleigh native finished at 18-under 262 and collected $936,000 in the tournament about a 30-mile drive from the Wake Forest campus where he was a college star.
“I really couldn’t think of a better place to win than here in Greensboro,” Simpson said.
George McNeill (64) was at 15 under, with Tommy Gainey (69) another stroke back in the final event before the PGA Tour playoffs.
Carl Pettersson (69), Vijay Singh (65), Jerry Kelly (65), Kyung-tae Kim (66) and Charles Howell III (67) finished at 13 under at Sedgefield Country Club.
Simpson said his first visit to the Greensboro-based tournament came when he was 16. His father brought him to the event’s former home across town at Forest Oaks Country Club to caddie for Lancaster during the Wednesday pro-am.
“That was probably the most fun 18 holes I’ve ever been a part of,” Simpson said.
His final 18 of this tournament were marked by steady, bogey-free play and a strong finish marked by consecutive birdies on Nos. 15 and 16.
After taking the lead during Round 3 with a late five-hole stretch of four birdies and an eagle, Simpson opened his final round with eight straight pars before moving to 16 under with a birdie on the par-4 ninth.
He stayed there until late in the day. Birdies on the par-5 15th and the par-3 16th gave him a three-shot lead with two holes to go.
“When I made the putt on 15, I asked my caddie for the first time all day, `Where do we stand?’ and he said, `We’re two ahead right now,'” Simpson said. “I knew I needed to play solid golf on the last three holes, and to birdie 16 was so huge. … I knew I had a three-shot lead on 18, and as soon as I hit the ball in play, I knew it was probably over.”
McNeill made a late charge, with the former Florida State player moving to 15 under with a birdie on No. 17, his sixth birdie of the round. But all he could do after that was hope for a few late bogeys from Simpson.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a lot lower,” McNeill said of the winning score. “I can only control myself. I can’t control what everybody else does. I’m very happy with the way I hit it, the way I played, the way I putted.”
Several players with strong Atlantic Coast Conference ties played pivotal roles during the fourth round at the country club where the ACC was founded in 1953 – and in a college-centric region where school ties run deep.
Simpson was the ACC’s player of the year for the Demon Deacons in 2008. McNeill was an all-conference player for the Seminoles in the late 1990s.
And Pettersson grew up in Greensboro, played at North Carolina State, serves on this tournament’s board of directors, won it in 2008 and made the daily 70-mile commute from his home in Raleigh.
“I’m disappointed. I’m a competitor,” Pettersson said. “I wanted to win this one badly, but Webb outplayed us all.”
Pettersson turned in perhaps the most remarkable birdie of the tournament on the par-4 first hole. After sending his drive well wide of the fairway and into a flower pot, he wound up chipping in from about 55 feet.
Gainey, a South Carolina native known as “Tommy Two Gloves” because he wears them on both hands, led or shared the lead after each of the first two rounds. After falling off the pace with two bogeys and a double bogey midway through the round, he reeled off four consecutive birdies on Nos. 12-15 to climb back in it.
The focus this week wasn’t solely on the leaders, but on the names moving up and down the FedEx Cup points list.
The Wyndham annually marks the last chance for players to claim spots in the playoffs, and some big names came to Greensboro hoping to play their way in.
Padraig Harrington, who called off a family vacation so he could try to escape the playoff bubble, finished at 6 under and jumped from No. 130 to No. 124. The top 125 qualify for The Barclays later this week in New Jersey.
Ernie Els, who entered at No. 126, made it into the playoff field despite shooting a final-round 72. His 8 under finish pushed him to 118th.
“You don’t know in these playoffs,” Els said. “I’ve got to play good golf though. I played really good the first two days. I’d like to get that back.”
Among those who didn’t make it: Justin Leonard missed a 13-foot putt on the 18th, and that left him at No. 126.
“To try and wait until this week to make it through is just – you know,” Leonard said. “I mean, come on. I had 25 other weeks to play like this.”
The Associated Press