Simpson eyes back-to-back Shriners titles

Webb Simpson knows history is working against him. But he’s not going to be discouraged in attempting to successfully defend his Shriners Hospitals for Children Open title.

In the 31 years Las Vegas has hosted a PGA Tour event, only Jim Furyk has managed to win consecutive championships. He won in 1998 and 1999, adding to his victory in 1995.

For Simpson to join Furyk, the 29-year-old Tour veteran from Charlotte, N.C., is going to have to be very good and probably a little lucky. The 144-player field that tees off today at TPC Summerlin has all sorts of intriguing possibilities to thwart Simpson’s attempt at repeating.

There are players who have won majors. There are 19 top-50 players from last season. There are some exciting young players. There’s a group of locals who know the course inside-out, and there are six other former champions who know what it takes to post a consistently low score for four days.

“Fundamentally, my game is as good as it has been,” Simpson said Wednesday after his pro-am round. “Hopefully I won’t be rusty.”

Simpson equaled Ryan Moore’s tournament record with his four-day total of 24-under-par 260 a year ago. With the course in pristine shape and the forecast calling for temperatures in the mid-80s with light winds, a lot of players are going to be shooting low the next four days.

“Last year, it was one of those weeks where everything went right,” said Simpson, who won by six strokes over Jason Bohn and Ryo Ishikawa. “Every day I was able to max out what I got out of the round. Normally, you need two or three of those, but I kind of did it every day.”

Moore, the former UNLV All-American and 2012 Shriners Open champion, said it’s about being patient and taking advantage of opportunities.

“You know you’re going to have your chances,” he said. “The big thing is making putts. If you putt well, you’re going to have a chance.”

One player coming to Las Vegas with momentum is Korea’s Sang-Moon Bae, who won the 2014-15 Tour’s opening event, the Frys.com Open, on Sunday by two shots. Bae, who is playing TPC Summerlin for the first time, said he’ll need to putt better this week to win again.

“I was pretty nervous down the stretch,” Bae said of his win at Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif. “But I tried to stay calm. I was able to hit my irons well, and I’m striking the ball good. I just want to keep playing well and see what happens.”

Jimmy Walker, Simpson’s teammate during last month’s Ryder Cup, said he also needs to play better this week to have a chance to win. He finished tied for 12th at last year’s Shriners Open.

“I didn’t play well last week,” said Walker, who finished 63rd at the Frys.com. “But I like this golf course. It fits my game nicely, and I’m looking to bounce back and have a good week.”

Simpson and Walker want to put their disappointing Ryder Cup experience behind them. Walker went 1-1-2 in his matches, and Simpson was 0-1-1.

“Losing was tough, but it was an incredibly first-class event,” Walker said. “I loved my teammates, and we all played hard.”

The experience wasn’t satisfying for Simpson.

“I had two experiences,” he said. “The golf side was a terrible experience because I only got to play in two matches. I showed up in Scotland ready to play, and when you sit three matches in a row, it’s tough. So the golf part stunk for me.

“But I had my wife there, and it was a great week being with her, with the teammates and the other wives and the captains. But it left a bittersweet taste in my mouth Sunday night, especially having tasted success on the Presidents Cup teams. At the end of the day, it’s a competition. It’s the Ryder Cup, it’s supposed to be fun. So I don’t let it linger as long as some people may.”

Having turned the page from the Ryder Cup, Simpson said his pleasurable experience of winning at TPC Summerlin last year will help his quest to repeat.

“I learned a lot about the golf course last year; the biggest thing was staying patient,” Simpson said. “I’m glad the field is better, and I think my game is good enough to win.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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