Simpson takes run at big prize despite tough week

ATLANTA (AP) — Webb Simpson was never a threat to win the Tour Championship.

But late Sunday, he was still in the running for quite a consolation prize: $10 million and the FedEx Cup.

Simpson, who came into East Lake leading the point standings, opened with a 1-under 69 but failed to break par the rest of the weekend. He closed with a disappointing 73, leaving him 22nd in the 30-player field and 10 strokes behind winner Bill Haas.

Even so, Simpson hung around until the end of the 72nd hole because he still had a chance to win the richest prize in golf if Aaron Baddeley had won the tournament. The Aussie gave it a run with a birdie on the 17th hole, but he settled for par at the 18th and missed the playoff by one stroke.

Haas went on to beat Hunter Mahan on the third extra hole.

Simpson was left to ponder how close he was to the big prize, finishing just 15 points behind Haas.

“I won’t take any negatives from it,” Simpson said. “It’s been a great year.”

Indeed, the 26-year-old Simpson had a breakthrough season with victories at Greensboro, N.C., and in the second event of the FedEx Cup playoff, the Deutsche Bank Championship, which he won in a playoff with Chez Reavie.

Simpson conceded that his nerves got the best of him in Atlanta.

“Usually in the past when I’m nervous, I focus a little better and play a little better,” he said. “It was just my driver pretty much all week. Irons were fine, the putter was fine. I just never got the ball in the fairway.”

Simpson bogeyed the first hole, made another bogey at the fifth and lost any chance to contend when he dumped his tee shot at the par-3 sixth into the water, leading to a double bogey. Two more bogeys after the turn left him 5 over for the day, so far out of the running that he finally calmed down.

“I never gave up, but the cord snaps and you kind of get over it,” Simpson said. “Not to say that you don’t care, but you don’t care about the results anymore in a good way. I made a couple of birdies right after that and kind of felt a little more relaxed.”

Simpson hit a brilliant approach at No. 17 to set up another birdie try, but the putt wouldn’t drop. When he finished with a par at the 18th, he knew his only hope of winning all that money was if Baddeley won. He headed to the clubhouse to watch the rest of the round on television, joking that Baddeley is “my good friend right now.”

But he couldn’t pull against Haas, who’s also a good friend.

“I’m already kind of at the point where whatever happens happens,” Simpson said. “I’m a little disappointed I didn’t play any better, but I’m pretty tired right now. It’s kind of shown in my golf game this week.”

I CAN DO BETTER: While the Tour Championship will surely be remembered for Bill Haas’ brilliant blast-out from the edge of the water in the playoff, there were a couple of shots that were nearly as good much earlier in the round.

They just didn’t have any impact on the outcome.

At the par-3 sixth hole, Steve Stricker and Bo Van Pelt both knocked their tee shots in the water. Each took a one-stroke penalty and headed to the drop zone about 70 yards from the flag.

Stricker went first and knocked his wedge about an inch from the cup for a gimme bogey. Van Pelt stepped up next and did even better, lofting a shot over the water that bounced twice and dropped in the hole for an improbable par.

Van Pelt finished with a 68 for a ninth-place finish at 275, just three shots behind Haas and the guy he beat in the playoff, Hunter Mahan. Stricker struggled to a 72 and was 15th at 279.

EYES ON ANOTHER CUP: Aaron Baddeley came up just shot of the playoff at the Tour Championship.

He hopes that was good enough to earn a spot in the Presidents Cup.

Greg Norman, captain of the international team, will announce his two picks Tuesday to fill out the 12-man squad. Baddeley came into the final round at East Lake tied for the lead with Hunter Mahan but a closing 72 left him at 7-under 273 – one stroke out of the playoff between Bill Haas and Mahan.

“It’s frustrating not to win because you’re right there and you feel like you’re playing well enough,” Baddeley said. “At the same time, I definitely showed Greg that I did what I needed to do to come here and play well, and hopefully I’ll get a positive phone call from Greg.”

Baddeley has made a major jump in the world rankings – he was 56th coming into East Lake – and feels his game is back on track after a discouraging slump.

“The positive thing is I feel like it’s only going to get better,” he said. “It’s close.”

DIVOTS: Keegan Bradley, the only current major champion in the field, closed with a 70 and tied for 11th at 3-under 277. Bradley grabbed the first-round lead with a 64 but didn’t break par the rest of the week. … Chez Reavie had an up-and-down tournament. He opened with a 66, soared to a 77 on Friday, rallied for a 68 on Saturday and closed with a 74. Ditto for Bubba Watson, who went 71-64-79-69. … Everyone left Atlanta with a hefty paycheck. Even Jonathan Byrd earned $128,000 for his last-place finish and a $190,000 bonus by placing 27th in the FedEx Cup standings. … Top-ranked Luke Donald reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the PGA Tour money list with $5,837,214 in official earnings. He’s just ahead of Webb Simpson, who has $5,768,243. Both players were scheduled to call it a year after Atlanta, but Simpson may add a fall event in an attempt to get past Donald and claim a five-year exemption. … Haas earned a five-year exemption with his FedEx Cup title.