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With COVID-19 behind him, Webb Simpson back at full strength, shares Sony Open lead


The chalk is writing a predicable script through two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Webb Simpson, a pre-tournament favorite and a winner of two events last season, birdied his final three holes Friday to fire his second consecutive 5-under-par 65 to move into a share of the lead midway through the second round of the Sony Open at windless Waialae Country Club.

The world No. 8, who tied for 17th in last week’s year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions, is back at full strength after contracting COVID-19 around Christmas. The 2018 Players champion and 2012 U.S. Open victor has 12 birdies and two bogeys through 36 holes.

“Today wasn’t quite as sharp as yesterday,” said Simpson, who finished third and in a tie for fourth in his last two starts in the Sony. “Hit a ball in the water on 2. Didn’t hit quite as many fairways but managed really well. I think staying present this week has allowed me to kind of get through these frustrating moments.

Sony Open in Hawaii: Photo gallery | Leaderboard

“I birdied the last two holes yesterday and today I birdied the last three. I think being patient on this golf course is paying off for me. It’s one of those days where calm winds, you feel like you need to go shoot 7-, 8-, 9-under, and I was a couple under for a while there. So really happy with my finish and I thought if I can get it to double digits, I would be at least close to the lead going into Saturday.”

Simpson, who has 11 top-20 finishes in his last 14 starts, said earlier this week he’s as confident about his game as he ever has been. And it doesn’t hurt when you’re playing alongside Collin Morikawa and Marc Leishman, who each shot 65.

Webb Simpson (left) fist bumps Marc Leishman on the ninth hole during the second round of the Sony Open golf tournament at Waialae Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“I think seeing good shots before you hit always kind of helps to frame the shot well and then seeing putts go in, you realize, OK, the holes are big enough for these balls to fit in,” Simpson said. “I love playing with those two guys. I’ve played a lot of golf with them. Collin made a lot of putts. Mark made a lot of putts. I made a lot of putts. That’s always nice knowing you don’t have to force birdies, but you put it in the right spot, you’re probably going to make some.”

Simpson was atop the crowded first page of the leaderboard.

Simpson shared the lead with Stewart Cink, who is continuing his resurgence with a 63 on Friday. Cink won the season-opening Safeway Open for his first title since his playoff victory against Tom Watson in the 2009 Open Championship.

Cink also finished in the top 12 two other times in the fall and has finished in the top 20 in his last six starts in the Sony Open.

“Today was a dream day for playing here at Waialae. It was almost no wind,” Cink said. “There was a little bit of moisture on the ground from last night, and it was just a day where you could really dial it in. You could really hit your spots instead of having to do the usual here which is trying to figure out how much wind is going to help or hurt the ball and crosswinds and all that.

“Today there was nothing out there.”

Morikawa, the reigning PGA champion, is in a large group at 9 under with Leishman. Hideki Matsuyama, who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2017, and Charley Hoffman, who hasn’t won since 2016, also each shot 65 to get to 9 under. Joaquin Niemann (69), who lost in a playoff last week in the Tournament of Champions, also moved to 9 under.

The Tank, K.J. Choi, has rolled up the leaderboard as he followed an opening-round 67 with a 65. Choi, who last won on the PGA Tour in the 2011 Players Championship and won the Sony Open in 2008, said he took advantage of the calm winds and an improving putter. Joining him at 8 under were Aaron Baddeley (68) and Daniel Berger (68).

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