LAHAINA, Hawaii – Webb Simpson might have pulled out of the Tournament of Champions to be with his caddie if he were not on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
Reassurance came from Paul Tesori, his caddie and friend whose newborn son is in intensive care in a Florida hospital.
“Paul sent me a text this morning, just told me he loved me and wanted to go out and fight as hard as I would any other day,” Simpson said Sunday after following that plan.
Simpson made four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine at Kapalua for a 5-under-par 68, giving him a share of the lead with defending champion Dustin Johnson (69) and Jordan Spieth (69) at 14 under going into the final round Monday on the Plantation Course.
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Second-round leader Zach Johnson (74) was fourth at 12 under.
Ryan Moore (72) of Puyallup was tied for 12th place at 9 under.
On a glorious day of sun and surf, Simpson played with a heavy heart.
Simpson said Tesori’s son, Isaiah, suffered a seizure shortly after he was born, with indications of an infection in the child’s brain. One of Tesori’s best friends in the business is Ted Scott, the caddie for Bubba Watson, who is filling in this week as Simpson’s caddie. Tesori tweeted that he tuned into the telecast at Kapalua in time to see his son’s name on Scott’s hat.
“I felt like we were out there playing for Isaiah,” Simpson said. “Paul needs something to watch there in the hospital. It’s been a long few days, so hopefully, we gave him something good to see on TV. But it was tough. I was thinking about him a lot out there.”
Simpson was the first to reach 14 under, thanks to a terrific par save on the 17th and a long two-putt par on the 18th hole, a par 5 with a front hole location that made it difficult to get close because the green and the grain move sharply away.
Spieth, a 20-year-old Texan, had a birdie on the par-3 eighth and made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
The powerful Dustin Johnson was actually disappointed at playing the par 5s in 3 under for the day.
One of them was a tap-in eagle on the par-5 ninth. But he had to settle for pars on the long holes on the back nine.