Luke DeCock

Close but not quite, again, for Simpson in Greensboro

Webb Simpson falls just short in Wyndham Championship

Check out photos from the 2019 Wyndham Championship in Greeensboro, N.C.
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Check out photos from the 2019 Wyndham Championship in Greeensboro, N.C.

After Webb Simpson rammed in one final birdie putt on the 18th hole, he grimaced as he acknowledged the crowd’s applause, different, fainter applause still echoing from behind the grandstands where J.T. Poston’s family and friends were celebrating his victory Sunday.

A North Carolina native and college product came from behind to win the Wyndham on Sunday, but it wasn’t Simpson. It was Poston, of Hickory and Western Carolina, wearing a disappointing lack of purple but going 72 holes without a bogey while Simpson, who grew up in Raleigh, played at Wake Forest and lives in Charlotte, finished in the top three for the third straight year.

The second-place finish was his fifth top-10 at Sedgefield since he won the tournament eight years ago, and for all of his success here, where he first won on tour and annually contends, it has also become a source of perpetual frustration. Two years ago, he birdied four of the final six holes to finish third. Last year, he birdied three of the final four but bogeyed 18 and finished three back of Brandt Snedeker. Sunday, another furious rally fell just short.

“I was 2-over through three, which kind of killed me,” Simpson said. “But despite the disappointment, I’m really happy and proud of the way we finished.”

When Simpson teed off, he was one of seven golfers within two shots of Byeong Hun An. Three holes later, he was off the leaderboard entirely, only temporarily but fatally for his chances of winning. An overcooked sand wedge on the first hole led to a three-putt; he then had to regather himself for a par-saver on the third after a photographer walked through his line of sight as he was just about to putt. He missed badly, and going 7-under par the rest of the way wasn’t enough after that.

“When you’re in the final group, there’s a lot of moving parts, so you’re used to it,” Simpson said.

At Sedgefield, especially when the course is this soft and this vulnerable, there’s no room for slip-ups, forced or unforced, an eagle putt that slides over the lip instead of going in. That’s been the story here for Simpson for three years, tantalizingly close but unable to get over the top.

“I want to win here again so badly, but we’re on a golf course, which I love and I love this part of it, but every day there’s going to be low numbers,” Simpson said. “So (caddie) Paul (Tesori) and I were talking out there, I don’t think you’ll see a guy win by a lot here because the scores, every day, low numbers can be shot. And J.T. went out and did it, shot 62.

Still, it’s a long way from his third-place finish in 2017, a performance that hinted at the end of the win drought that would come the next spring at Sawgrass. He’s been on the upswing ever since, and his strong finish to the regular season -- a second last week in Memphis despite another slow start and fast finish, then this -- moved him into the top 10 of the President’s Cup standings heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs.

It wasn’t enough to catch Poston, who like Simpson in 2011 is a first-time winner on tour, and shot 62 -- the first tour winner to go without a bogey since Lee Trevino in 1974 -- in front of a rowdy crowd of Catamounts and Red Tornadoes.

“I’ve got so many friends and family that are here, coming in from all over the place,” Poston said. “Some came in last night, some came in this morning. The celebration’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of Hickory cheers a lot of Western Carolina cheers out there. I definitely heard them all day, so I can’t wait to celebrate with them.”

Simpson had a cheering section of his own at the end, with two of his daughters walking up the 18th fairway with him. Even as he knew he faced the unlikely challenge of sinking his approach shot to force a playoff with Poston, he was blowing kisses to them, one of those moments where another near miss seemed like not that big of a deal.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.