For a while, it appeared Webb Simpson couldn’t get out of his own way in his attempt to remain atop the leaderboard at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
But after a pedestrian front nine at TPC Summerlin that saw him play the course to 1 under par, Simpson found his stroke and kept his distance from the field after Saturday’s third round, finishing with a 4-under 67 that put him at 19-under 194.
Simpson will take a four-shot lead over Chesson Hadley into today’s final round. Hadley also shot 67. Jeff Overton is five shots back after his second straight 68.
Defending champion Ryan Moore, who got into contention with a second-round 63, shot 69 and is part of a six-way tie for fifth at 201.
“The back nine is where you have to make your birdies,” Simpson said. “My speed was a little off on my putts early on. The greens looked faster, but they really weren’t faster. But I adjusted to the speed, got a couple of putts to drop, starting on 13, and things seemed to pick up.
“It was just a matter of staying patient with myself when things weren’t going well early in the round.”
Simpson had bogeys at the par-4 No. 3 and the par-4 11th. But he answered both with birdies on the following holes. He knocked his second shot at the par-4 No. 4 to 5 feet and made the putt, and holed out a 12-foot putt at the par-4 12th to get back to 16 under.
After the birdie at 12, Simpson made birdie on three of the next four holes to get to 19 under and maintain the four-stroke lead he had after the second round.
Hadley, a 27-year-old second-year PGA Tour player from Simpson’s hometown of Raleigh, N.C., left a few shots out on the course. But after starting the third round four shots behind Simpson, then finishing with the same deficit, he wasn’t quite sure how to assess Saturday’s performance.
“I felt I did a good job managing my game,” Hadley said. “I had a couple of chances to get closer, but I’m excited to be in this position and to play with Webb, who’s a good friend and a great player, someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.”
Overton, one of five players who began the third round four shots behind Simpson, got within two shots early in the round. But he went 12 straight holes of par golf and lost three strokes.
“It was one of those tough days,” Overton said. “I hit it great, and I just didn’t take advantage of the easy holes. It was unfortunate to only get to 3 under, especially as good as I hit them.”
He wasn’t alone. Jeff Bohn, who also began Saturday four back, pulled within a shot of Simpson. But a bogey at the par-4 sixth cost him, and he never recovered. Bohn finished with a 69 and is fourth, six shots behind Simpson.
“I had opportunities for birdie and I just didn’t make them,” Bohn said. “I was surprised by the scores. I thought there’d be a lot of guys in the afternoon shooting 64, 65. But I looked at the leaderboard and there weren’t that many.”
J.J. Henry and John Senden, the other golfers who began the day at 11 under, couldn’t keep pace. Henry shot 70 and Senden 71.
Hadley said the course’s tougher pin placements might have been a factor in the lack of birdie runs. But the added pressure of trying to catch Simpson might have been a factor as well.
“He’s such a great player,” Hadley said. “He responds to pressure so well. I know I’m going to be nervous playing with him, but I am excited about the opportunity to try to get my first win on the tour.”
The friends from Raleigh will tee off at 12:45 p.m. today. Simpson said his plan is to be aggressive enough while remaining patient.
“There’s a fine line,” he said. “You have to know when there’s a green light and when you need to be a little cautious. I think the key for me will be is when there is a green light to really be committed.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.