NORTON, Mass. — After the scoring was higher than expected in Friday’s opening round, low scores were once again the norm on Saturday as several players capitalized on the easier playing conditions.
Webb Simpson made a 71-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to take the lead alone at 11-under par and cap a round of 63 late Saturday afternoon. Any putt of that length takes a bit of luck, but Simpson was still impressed with the execution.
“The grass around the greens is firm enough to where the ball runs pretty smoothly,” Simpson said. “You’ve just got to hit it a little harder than you would on the greens. I didn’t like my lie to chip it. I decided to putt it, and it came off really nice, just how I wanted it.”
The 33-year-old is looking for his second win in Boston after taking the Labor Day title in 2011. Simpson has enjoyed a resurgence this season as he picked up his first win in four years at The Players Championship and is back inside the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Having earned a spot on the US Ryder Cup team for the first time since 2014, Simpson believes an improvement in his mental toughness has led to his return to form.
“Just learning from mistakes. After a golf tournament sitting down and writing down how many mental errors I made and why and where,” Simpson said. “Just really paying attention because we’re going to make physical mistakes every day. And I can play rounds now where I don’t make any mental mistakes. It’s still hard. A great tournament for me is two to four mental mistakes for a tournament. I didn’t think I was doing enough homework on learning from my mistakes.”
The morning wave was led by Englishmen Saturday as Justin Rose and Tyrrell Hatton each posted the number to beat at 10-under total early on. Rose followed up a sensational first round 65 with another solid round Saturday as the 2013 US Open champion made five birdies and just a lone bogey at the par 4 13th.
“I felt the course was more gettable,” Rose said. “I think being out in the morning, fresh greens, a touch of moisture in the surfaces, as well, probably helped. But still, you know, it’s — yeah, it’s never easy to back up a really good round. It was a good job done today.”
Rose is enjoying a season that would’ve been in the Player of the Year discussion had Brooks Koepka not win two of the four major championships, but is coming off his first missed cut of the season. The 2013 US Open winner isn’t sweating last week’s early exit however as he appears to be finding his form as the playoffs progress.
“I feel like you need to play well in at least one of the playoff events going into Atlanta, and you need to win it in Atlanta,” Rose said. “I came into the playoffs in great position and like I said, obviously missed the cut last week. It doesn’t mean much really if you go ahead and you win one of the next two. That’s what you need to do. It’s easier said than done, though.”
After grinding out a 2-under-par 69 Friday, Hatton relied on exceptional iron play as he made six birdies from inside 10 feet and posted a flawless 8-under-par 63.
Hatton has made plenty of birdies in part thanks to a new putter he put in the bag before the final round last week at the Northern Trust. Since the equipment trucks leave the site of a Tour event on Wednesday afternoon, the 26-year-old’s search for a new flat stick led him to a local Golf Galaxy in New Jersey.
Hatton’s caddie purchased a Ping Sigma G Darby putter Saturday afternoon, which Hatton approved via WhatsApp, and shot a 7-under 64 with it the next day. He considers putting to be a strong point in his game, but decided it was time for a switch.
“it was just a case of I’d been kind of struggling with my putting for a few months, which is normally a strength of mine,” Hatton said. “I think if you look at the stats in most weeks, I was at the bottom of putting, which is not normal for me. So I needed a change and luckily it’s worked.”
Tommy Fleetwood is making his first appearance in the FedEx Cup playoffs and appears to be enjoying his first time in Boston as a second-round 65 has him squarely in contention heading into the weekend. The Englishman sits alone in fourth place at 8 under par.
“It was a good day. Yesterday I honestly felt like I swung it better. I felt a little bit more in control,” Fleetwood said. “But I had a really good spell from four on, it was a good spell, hitting good shots.”
Fleetwood’s 2018 season has been a year-long introduction to American golf fans as he plays his first season on the PGA Tour. The 27-year-old Englishman has yet to notch his first win on American soil, but he nearly stole the US Open trophy with a final round 63 at Shinnecock Hills before finishing second.
Playing the PGA Tour for the first time means playing plenty of new golf courses, but for Fleetwood it also means getting to see new cities and acclimating to American culture.
“I’ve enjoyed [Boston]. I thought it was very hot on Wednesday. It’s been nice,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve enjoyed playing in front of the fans. It’s great to be here. It’s part of the FedEx, but also I’ve seen plenty of new places in America this year that I’ve never seen before. That continues on, so that’s nice.”
As for his favorite new city, Fleetwood is partial to the Big Apple.
“We went to New York one day. I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I’d say that’s probably No. 1 on my list so far,” Fleetwood said. “I do have to say without being cheesy, I very much enjoyed my time this year in America for the first time. I’m looking forward to it again next year.”
After a difficult day Friday, Tiger Woods bounced back to record a bogey-free round of 66. Woods hit 12/14 fairways and 14/18 greens on the day.
“I played well today. I hit it well,” Woods said. “I really rolled it on my lines. A couple didn’t go in, but it was a good, solid day all around.”
Woods’ driving accuracy has improved since a wild driving performance at the PGA Championship and attributed the progression to an equipment change.
“It’s come along. I think more today — more since I’ve switched drivers, that I’ve got a little bit more spin on it, I’m keeping the ball in play a little better,” Woods said. “I can cheer for my bad ones, they’re hanging in there. A couple of tee shots were kind of borderline, but still in the fairway.”