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Dublin: 11°C Friday 16 April 2021

In the swing: Major breakthrough brings Simpson front and centre

Casual fans may not have known Webb Simpson before his US Open win on Sunday but he can no longer be ignored, writes Neil Cullen in this week’s column.

Image: Eric Gay/AP/Press Association Images

SO FOR THE ninth time in a row, we are welcoming a new member to the major winner’s club. Webb Simpson is the latest inductee.

I guarantee that there is someone reading this who hadn’t heard of Webb Simpson before Sunday. I think this tweet by San Francisco radio presenter Whitey Gleason sums it up best.

Webb Simpson is, however, a very good golfer. He won twice on the PGA Tour last season and stared down Luke Donald in the race to become the leading money winner in the States last season. In fact, if it wasn’t for a career-best season from Donald, we would probably be talking about Simpson in a very different context. You don’t finish runner-up on the money list in this day and age without being a very good player.

As well as his two two victories last year, he also had a three runner-up finishes. That’s five tournaments where he was in with a chance of winning deep into the back nine on Sunday. Anyone who watched a fair amount of PGA Tour golf last season should know Webb Simpson.

But Simpson isn’t just a guy who had a good season. He is a top quality golfer. His stats over the course of the 2011 season tell a story: 1st in back-nine scoring average, 2nd in overall scoring average, most under-par for all par 4s (-29) and par 5s (-152), 2nd in total birdies (415)… I could go on.

So why has the average sports fan with a passing interest in golf not heard of Webb Simpson?

It’s hard to put your finger on it, but he’s not a colourful guy like Ricky Fowler, or a wild guy like Bubba Watson, or an abundantly talented guy like Rory McIlroy. In fact, he’s an unassuming American professional who goes quietly about his business in a professional and competent way.

Boring? Give the guy a break. He’s on the Tour to win and if the style he adopts facilitates him doing that then I don’t see the problem.

Sure, as the final few groups entered the back nine on Sunday, we all wanted to see either Padraig Harrington or Graeme McDowell bring it home, but you can’t argue with Webb Simpson as a winner.

If we look back at the aforementioned nine new major winners, he’s among the best of them, and we’re not talking about a mediocre group of players there.

We were willing the Irish guys to make birdies over the final holes. It would have been particularly astonishing and at the same time joy-filled to see Padraig Harrington win his fourth Major and redeem what has been a very tough few years since his last victory at a major championship.

When he chipped in from beside the hazard on the par-three 13th, there was a sense that it might just be his day, but golf is a cruel game and that stoke of luck was cancelled out by a plugged lie in the greenside bunker on the left of the 18th that he even did well to make a bogey from.

As it turned out, even a birdie on 18 wouldn’t have been enough, such was Webb Simpson’s quality over the back nine. In fact, Simpson played the last 13 holes in four-under-par, the back nine in one-under, a remarkable achievement on such a challenging course and under the most intense pressure.

The other Irish challenger, Graeme McDowell had been there and done it before at Pebble Beach in 2010 and we thought that experience would be a valuable assett for him. His driving, however, was just not up to the standard required for a US Open golf course. As he alluded to himself on Twitter, only hitting three fairways from the tee in the entire round is not good enough. Six bogeys in the final round says it all, and even then a birdie on 18 would have got him into a play-off.

So when all was said and done, Simpson was crowned, and the elite club of major winners grows and grows.

As we look towards the second half of the season and particlarly the British Open in just a month’s time, I’m forced to reflect on a statement put to me in Sunday’s aftermath by’s Niall Kelly: “I find it incredible that the last nine majors have been won by first-time major winners and none of them are named either L Westwood or L Donald.”

It’s certainly something worth chewing on for some time, because while Simpson is a very good player, he is not a Westwood or a Donald.

Now that he has a Major under his belt, he never will be either.

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