Simpson has 2-stroke lead in Greenbrier Classic

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Webb Simpson likes the way he’s avoiding bogeys and figures he’ll need to play smart again at the Greenbrier Classic to get his second win in three tournaments.

The U.S. Open champion shot a 5-under 65 in the third round Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into the final round. Simpson had his second straight bogey-free round to reach 14 under on The Greenbrier Resort’s Old White TPC Course.

Troy Kelly was second after a 62. Rookie Charlie Beljan, J.B. Holmes and Ken Duke were 11 under. Beljan had a 67, Holmes a 66, and Duke a 65.

Simpson isn’t disappointed that Tiger Woods isn’t around to challenge him. Woods missed the cut for only the ninth time in his PGA career.

“When he’s not lurking around on Saturdays and Sundays, it makes it a little easier I think for other guys,” Simpson said.

Simpson said he plans to peek at the leaderboard, “but the way I look at it is, I’ve got to go shoot under par (Sunday). And if I don’t, somebody’s going to probably going to probably (play) pretty good. I think the golf course is playing in such a way that there’s plenty of birdie opportunities.

“I’ve almost got to imagine that these guys are all going to shoot 4, 5 under. I’ve got to stay aggressive.”

Simpson has been in this position before. He briefly led entering the final nine holes last year, but faded to a tie for ninth.

“I realized shortly after the round that I wanted it so bad that it kind of put more pressure on myself than the pressure I was already feeling,” he said. “So it kind of locked me up a little bit and I wasn’t able to perform like I had been all week.

“I think it’s good for me to remember that, not only (Sunday) but every week that I just have to let it come to me.”

Simpson started the third round a stroke ahead of five others. He opened with six straight pars before gaining momentum on the back nine. He two-putted for birdie from 24 feet on the par-5 12th, made a 7-footer at No. 14 and retook the lead from Kelly with a 6-foot putt on the 597-yard 17th. Simpson finished it off with a 20-footer for birdie on the par-3 18th.

He’ll be pursued Sunday by a pair of players making medical comebacks.

Kelly underwent hip-replacement surgery in September 2010 after being diagnosed with arthritis. Holmes had part of his skull removed in September 2011, four months after he started having vertigo symptoms. He returned to the tour in January.

While playing the mini-tour circuit several years ago, Kelly didn’t know what was causing pain in his left hip. He played through it for two years but got to the point where he could barely walk, so he went to a doctor and surgery followed.

“For me to just play this game at a high level, I had to go get it done,” Kelly said.

He starting playing golf again five months later, but it took up to a year before he felt his muscle strength was back to normal. He was 11th in winnings last year on the former Nationwide Tour and moved up to the PGA Tour.

The new hip hasn’t made his golf game exponentially better. He has made seven cuts in 15 events this year but has yet to finish in the top 30.

Kelly has had longtime problems with his putter. Ranked 464th in the world, he entered the Greenbrier Classic 174th in putting on the PGA Tour.

On Saturday, Kelly made five birdies on the front nine and had three more on the back.

“I haven’t made a lot of putts pretty much the whole year,” Kelly said. “It’s just good to see some putts go in. I had fun today.”

Holmes believes his swing and judgment on yardages have become more consistent over the past six weeks and he isn’t having as much stiffness in his neck.

“I feel like I’ve improved a whole lot and really narrowing it down and getting back to where I was,” Holmes said.

The 43-year-old Duke has five top-10 finishes this year. He has finished second three times in his PGA Tour career. Four birdies on the back nine put him in contention for that elusive first win.

“There’s something missing,” Duke said. “I’m not focusing the entire day, so there’s about an hour or so in there that I’m not focused, so I’m working on that. You know, if we keep knocking on the door, maybe it will open. You just never know.”

Ted Potter Jr. (64) was sixth at 10 under, four strokes behind Simpson. Blake Adams (64), Graham DeLaet (64), Charlie Wi (68) and Martin Flores (69) were 9 under.

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