SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Webb Simpson was in big trouble when he drove into the right-side water on the par-5 15th.
“I didn’t think it was over,” Simpson said. “But I thought, ‘I’m going to really have to do something special to get back in it.’”
He did — at friend Tony Finau’s expense Sunday in the Waste Management Phoenix Open on a TPC Scottsdale course that played tougher with firm greens and a touch of wind.
Simpson birdied the final two holes of regulation to force a playoff with Finau, then won with a 10-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.
Two strokes ahead with two holes left, Finau missed an 18-foot birdie try in the playoff on the par-4 18th after driving left into the church pew bunkers.
Simpson two-putted for birdie from the fringe on the short par-4 17th and made a 17-footer for birdie from the edge of the green on the 18th. Finau, after hitting a 366-yard drive and an approach to 8 feet, missed a chance to win when his birdie try slid right.
Simpson closed with a 2-under 69 to match Finau at 17-under 267.
“Today was a lot different. Today played tougher,” Simpson said. “I thought the pins were very tough, by far the toughest day of pins, course was longer, we had wind. We hadn’t had wind all week, so everything today was harder.”
Finau shot 70.
“I hit good putts,” Finau said. “The first one I hit really good, I thought I made it. … Second one, similar line, a little bit farther, decided to play a little bit more break and it didn’t break.”
Simpson won his sixth PGA Tour title and first since the 2018 Players Championship. The 2012 U.S. Open champion improved to 2-6 in playoffs, three years after falling to Hideki Matsuyama in extra holes at TPC Scottsdale. Simpson also lost a playoff in November in the RSM Classic.
“I think getting frustrated after RSM led to being better prepared for today,” Simpson said.
Simpson visited instructor Butch Harmon on Monday in Las Vegas.
“I started the week off right, just getting a checkup from him,” Simpson said. “And two weeks of rest, I came in feeling ready to go.”
Finau missed a chance for his second PGA Tour victory. He also lost a playoff to Xander Schauffele in November 2018 in China in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
“I definitely didn’t give him the tournament,” Finau said. “Unfortunately, it’s how the cookie crumbles. … I love Webb. I think the camaraderie that I have with him as being one of my best friends out here, it would have been hard for either one of us to take this victory from each other. He got the upper hand this time, but I love that guy.”
Simpson felt for Finau.
“It’s hard. He is a great friend,” Simpson said. “Our wives are friends and he’s one of the best guys on tour. So it is a bit tough.”
A stroke ahead of Simpson after a third-round 62, Finau parred the first seven holes, limiting his birdie chances with sluggish iron and wedge play. He bogeyed the par-4 eighth to end a 57-hole bogey-free streak, leaving an 8-iron from the fairway 65 feet short.
Finau made a big par save on the par-4 10th, holing a 25-footer to only lose one stroke after Simpson ran in a 5-footer for birdie and the lead.
Finau pulled even with an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-3 12th, a day after Simpson aced the hole in a 64. Finau made a 9-foot birdie putt on the par-5 13th to take the lead and doubled the advantage with a par on the 15th after Simpson drove into the water.
They each parred the the par-3 stadium 16th, with Finau wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey on the rowdy hole. The PGA Tour cut the pin position in a tribute to Bryant, using his two Lakers uniform numbers. The pin was placed 24 yards from the front edge and 8 yards from the left edge, putting it in the back left corner. The flag had an 8 one side and a 24 on the other, and the numbers also were painted into the grass in front of the green.
Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas tied for third at 14-under after a 65, birdieing the 16th in a jersey from Bryant’s days at Lower Merion High School.
“It’s always a fun week here in Phoenix,” Thomas said. “Somehow it gets crazier every year.”
Justin Thomas discusses his final round:
Bubba Watson and Nate Lashley also finished at 14 under. Watson closed with a 66, and Lashley shot 68.
Watson has seemingly been forgiven for his 2016 rant that offended everyone from the Thunderbirds to the fans (“I don’t like it. I’m not going to PC it. I don’t like it at all. I just mentioned why I’m here … I’ve got three beautiful sponsors that love it here … Obviously I’m here because of my sponsors and everything.”). A more mellow Bubba now has a more positive view of the event, and said after his final round, “When people come out here and support you, this many people, I mean this has got to be one of or the biggest sporting event in the world, the amount of people that come through the gates over a seven-day period or whatever it is, pretty amazing.” Faint praise indeed.
Local favorite Jon Rahm finished T9, at -11, after an up and down one-under round that featured five birdies and four bogeys. Putting was not his strength over the weekend.
“Great, tee to green,” said the 25-year old ASU grad. “Can’t make a putt to save my life. Simple as that, honestly. It’s just hard to see. I don’t know if it was misreads or mishits with the putter, but the frustrations kind of ended up feeding into the rest of the game and not allowing me to maybe hit the ball as good as I could have the last few days.”