(Reuters) - U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson returns to a “perfect” venue where he enjoyed “the most important week” of his career for his title defense at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Twelve months ago, Simpson clinched his maiden victory on the PGA Tour by three shots, after two near-misses earlier in the season, and he is excited to be back at Sedgefield Country Club as the title holder.
”I was looking forward to this week ever since last year winning here,“ Simpson, who lives in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina, told reporters on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s opening round. ”All my memories here are just awesome.
“To break through, have my first victory here an hour-and-a-half from where I grew up and an hour-and-a-half from where I live now... it was a perfect place to break through and win.”
Simpson was especially delighted to finally silence all the questions over his ability to triumph on the U.S. circuit.
“The number of times I put myself in position to win and didn’t get it done, I took the positives from those experiences and learned from them,” he said.
“I was playing really well coming in this week last year and I didn’t expect to win but I felt confident that I could win. I don’t think I would have won Boston or the U.S. Open had I not won here.”
Simpson’s breakthrough catapulted him into the spotlight as he went on to win his second title at the Deutsche Bank Championship just two starts later before ending his 2011 campaign second in the FedExCup standings and the money list.
He then trumped all of that when he clinched his first major title by one shot at the U.S. Open in June after overhauling overnight leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell in the final round.
Though Simpson missed the cut in last week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, he was not overly concerned as it was his first start in a month as he took time off to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
“I‘m kind of relieved I‘m back in competition now. I got the rust off. It will help this week and I got to go home a couple of days extra,” the 27-year-old said, referring to his missed cut in the season’s final major.
”I wasn’t planning on it but with the stretch I have coming up I think in the end it will be a blessing in disguise.
“Having family just keeps things in perspective and, I‘m okay if I don’t play well this week. Will coming into the world has reminded me of that already.”
This week’s event has attracted a strong field as it is the last stop in the regular season before the PGA Tour’s lucrative end-of-season finale gets under way next week.
Only the top 125 players after this week qualify for the first of the four FedExCup playoffs, the August 23-26 Barclays tournament, and several notable names are on the outside looking in.
Former PGA Championship winner Yang Yong-eun lies 129th in the FedExCup standings with long-hitting Gary Woodland (130th), John Daly (137th), Camilo Villegas (146th) and Robert Karlsson (154th).
All five players are competing this week.
“I‘m not too concerned about it (qualifying),” said American Woodland, who is finally pain-free after a lingering wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from this year’s Masters.
“I‘m happy to be healthy, finally healthy this year. I did some great things last week. Come out here and play well this week.”
Woodland, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at last year’s Transitions Championship, injured his left wrist during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National in April.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Alison Wildey