For someone playing so close to his house, Webb Simpson has been on edge all week.
The home crowd. Two rounds with Tiger Woods. His name atop the leaderboard at Quail Hollow alongside Rory McIlroy and so many others late Saturday afternoon. It has caused him to try extra hard to block everything out except the shot in front of him.
So far, it has worked better than he imagined.
Simpson broke out of a five-way tie for the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, and a 3-under 69 gave him a one-shot lead over Ryan Moore and D.A. Points going into the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
"It seems like when guys on this level do get nervous, it seems like every time they focus a little better, they just tighten up their thoughts a lot better," Simpson said. "Seems like when I'm more nervous, for the most part, I play better. It's not a good thing when we get comfortable out there because you start getting lazy and losing focus on your target."
This is no time to relax.
Ten players were separated by four shots going into Sunday on a course where anything can happen. Two years ago, McIlroy made the cut on the number, closed with a course-record 62 and won.
This time, McIlroy goes into the final round only two shots behind and playing better each day. He can go back to No. 1 in the world by finishing seventh, although what matters more is that trophy. He was among seven players who had a share of the lead at some point during the warm afternoon before he fell back with a three-putt bogey on the 16th and had to settle for a 66.
"I definitely feel like I've left a couple out there," McIlroy said. "A 66 is a good score out there, and I feel like I've got another one of those scores in me, and looking forward to doing that tomorrow."
Simpson was at 14-under 202.
Moore, penalized one shot Friday when his ball moved right before tapping in a 10-inch putt, had his first bogey-free round in 14 months and shot 68. Points, whose lone win came with Bill Murray as his partner at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last year, shot a 69.
McIlroy was joined at 204 by Nick Watney, the 36-hole leader who missed three birdie chances inside 15 feet on the back nine and finished his day by driving into the creek left of the 18th fairway and working hard for a bogey. He had a 72.
Rickie Fowler (67) and Stewart Cink, who took four putts from the front of the 18th green for a double bogey and a 71, were three shots behind.
The tone was set early, and the tournament became interesting late.
Phil Mickelson ran off four straight birdies on the back nine playing with Lee Westwood, though both had to settle for a 68 and wound up nine shots behind. Geoff Ogilvy had a 65 and thought he might need another one to have a chance. He finished right after the leaders teed off, and when the wind kicked up in the afternoon, the course played more difficult. Ogilvy was only four shots back.
Simpson has the crowd on his side, and it wasn't hard to figure out. Watney blasted a beautiful drive on the par-5 15th, followed by a fairway metal into the wind to the fringe for a two-putt birdie and a share of the lead. Walking off the green, he looked back at the crowd clapping wildly for Simpson making birdie to join him atop the leaderboard.
"It's like playing with Phil," Watney said. "Visiting team." Continued...