NORTON, Mass. — Webb Simpson, a PGA Tour winner for the first time just three weeks ago, figured his next win would be easier. It was more work than he could have imagined Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He had to make three par saves in the middle of the back nine just to stay in the game. He had to make a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 65, which got him into a playoff only when Chez Reavie finished with a bogey on the easiest hole at the TPC Boston.
Simpson made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th in the playoff after Reavie chipped to tap-in birdie range. Then, Simpson completed his comeback with an 8-foot birdie on the second extra hole at No. 17 to win the FedEx Cup’s second playoff event and move to No. 1 in the standings, giving him a clear shot at the $10 million prize.
Pretty simple, huh?
“I told somebody early this week that I feel like next time I was in contention, it’ll be a lot easier than Greensboro,” Simpson said. “And it wasn’t that way at all. It was just as hard. The shots and the putts were just as hard. I think it helped calm me down a little, but it was like I had never won a golf tournament before.”
It was hard on Reavie, too, for a variety of reasons.
He started the season on a medical exemption because of knee surgery a year ago and lost full status by June. Not only did Reavie claw his way into the playoffs, he had a one-shot lead playing the par-5 18th.
His plan all along was to lay up short of the ravine with a one-shot lead. He didn’t count on his sand wedge turning with the wind and going over the green, leading to a bogey when he missed a 10-foot putt.
“Unfortunately, my wedge didn’t quite work out,” Reavie said. “But all in all on the day, I played fantastic.”
He immediately found some consolation in his 66 for a runner-up finish. Even though he won’t have full status on tour until next year, Reavie moved to No. 9 in the standings and is assured of getting to the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship, putting him in Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
His eyes welled with tears just thinking about how far he has come this year.
“It’s unbelievable,” Reavie said. “Starting the year on a medical and not knowing what’s going to happen, to be able to go to the Tour Championship is a goal. It’s what I wanted to do.”
A day filled with big crowds and big moments — appropriate to golf’s version of the postseason — the pressure was felt by more than just the leaders. The top 70 advance to the third playoff event in two weeks outside Chicago. Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy and Chris Stroud made it by one shot with clutch play on the 18th hole — birdies for Els and Ogilvy, an eagle for Stroud.
“You screw up on the 18th leading and now you’re going to finish second and you’re going to have a $600,000 check,” Els said. “Here, I’m going home. It’s a bad place to be, but it’s a good place to come back from.”
Simpson, who had to play well late last year just to keep his PGA Tour card, started the season at No. 213 in the world. His second win in three weeks moves him up to No. 14, and the $1.44 million check assures him a spot in the Presidents Cup.
Best of all, he is atop the FedEx Cup.
“I couldn’t expect anything more,” Simpson said.
No one was sure what to expect from a wild final round on Labor Day. It was so scrambled that seven players — including world No. 1 Luke Donald — had a share of the lead at some point.
Simpson one-putted seven of his last eight greens, mostly for par on the back nine in regulation to stay in the hunt, then received just enough help from Reavie.
Reavie came roaring up the leaderboard on the back nine. He made four birdies in a six-hole stretch — including on the toughest par 3 at No. 11 and the toughest hole at No. 14 — and was poised to capture his second PGA Tour title until one wedge cost him.
“It’s definitely difficult to think about it,” Reavie said. “It’s not hard to make a 5. I mean, I’m going to make a 5 there nine times out of 10. Unfortunately it was the only bogey I had all day.”
Brandt Snedeker, who closed with a 61 last week to tie for third, went out in 30 to take the lead until getting wild off the teed on the back nine. He had to settle for a 66 and another tie for third.
Donald, who matched birdies and eagles with Simpson in regulation, fell apart with a double bogey on No. 12 and a tee shot over the 16th green that led to bogey. He closed with a 67 and tied for third, along with Jason Day, who had a 68.
Bubba Watson, who had a one-shot lead going into the wild final day, chipped in for eagle on the final hole to salvage a 74 that put him in a tie for 16th, seven shots behind.
Some of the most intense golf came hours before Simpson and Reavie went into their playoff.
Els, who barely qualified for the playoffs and then narrowly made it to the second stage in Boston, made two key par putts and finished with a 5-foot birdie over his last four holes to move up to No. 68 and advance.
Ogilvy, trying to keep alive his hopes of making the Presidents Cup in his native Australia, thought he was finished when he made two late bogeys and then hit into native grass behind the rock and took a penalty shot. But he holed a 20-foot par putt on the 17th, then a 6-foot birdie on the 18th hole to move up to No. 69.
Stroud produced a shot even more memorable. Needing nothing less than eagle on the final hole, he hit 3-iron just onto the green, and it caught the ridge and settled 3 feet away for eagle that atoned for a messy day and put him at No. 70.
The PGA Tour now takes a week off before resuming these playoffs at the BMW Championship.
Simpson, more than most, can use a breather.