Simson bags fourth Hall of Fame crown
Paul Simson, a two-time winner of the U.S. Senior Amateur and the British Senior Amateur from Raleigh, brought his “A” game to the final round of the National Senior Hall of Fame Amateur on Friday.
Rick Cloninger, who began the day tied for the lead with Simson, knew he was in trouble when he didn’t have his from the start.
The result was Simson getting his fourth Hall of Fame victory in six years, posting a 3-under par 69 for a 7-under 209 and a 5-shot victory over Cloninger (74) and fast-closing Ronald Carter (71).
“I played well all week and I putted pretty well although I didn’t make as many as I sometimes do,” SImson said. “All-in-all it was a pretty solid tournament.”
Simson was particularly solid on the front nine Friday, going out in 3-under 33 (with birdies on 4, 7, 9 while Cloninger struggled to a 38, bogeying three of the first eight holes when he failed to get up-and-down from off the green.
Simson’s sterling play on the front side included hitting all but one fairway (the exception on the ninth hole when his tee shot rolled past the fairway cut) and hit all but one green in regulation (that the eighth when it rolled just off the green).
“Paul, you know when his A game is on,” Cloninger said. “You know you need to have it too and I didn’t. When you are playing him, you have to have that.”
Simson didn’t have a walk in the park on the back nine. He made consecutive bogeys after poor second shots that didn’t find the green on 13 and 14 while Cloninger went birdie, par to cut the deficit to two strokes.
But the threat ended when Cloninger gave up a shot each on 15, 16, 17, falling into a tie with Carter as the lead grew back to five.
“I hit a couple of poor shots,” Simson said. “Thirteen shook me up a little. I had a wedge in there and made bogey and he made a nice putt for birdie. Then, he got the lead down to two. But, I knew he had to keep making birdies because I wasn’t going to bogey the rest of them. Then he had an unfortunate break when he hit it in the water on 15. That put me three up with three to play and I can usually get in from there.”
Simson didn’t think about playing conservatively after opening up his early lead.
“When you have it going well, you want to maximize your good stuff rather than protect it,” Simson said. “Plus, a five-shot lead on the front nine is not that big. A five-shot lead on the back nine, it starts to be more significant.
“I didn’t lay off much. I had the two bad shots. I just lost focus. Then, coming in I played solidly.”
Simson thought his most important shot was salvaging par on No. 15 while Cloninger scrambled to make bogey after hitting his tee shot into a water hazard and his third shot into a sand trap.
“A three-shot lead with three to play is usually enough unless you do something really stupid,” Simson said.
Cloninger left his tee shot short on No. 16 and couldn’t get up and down.
“I hit it right on 15 and didn’t know water was over there,” Cloninger said. “I just didn’t hit the ball as well as I had earlier in the week. It wasn’t a good ball-striking day. I needed to be putting for birdies and I was putting for pars.”
Of the five birdies SImson made, four came on the par 5s and the other was on No. 9. He was also 4-under on the par 5s on Thursday.
“When you do that, you really have to leak some oil to have a poor round,” Simson said.
Carter was solid, making 14 pars and one bogey before birdieing 16 and 17 to tie Cloninger.
“I had the ball in some places where I thought I could make some birdies and I didn’t,” Carter said. “But shooting par or better is a good score out here.”
The bogey came after nearly hitting his tee shot into the creek on No. 4. Instead of trying to hit from a precarious stance on the edge of the creek bank, he took a drop.
“That was trying to use a 3-wood and I hate that 3-wood,” Carter said.
“Out of the fairway it’s OK but off the tee I pull it. I thought I could hit it out of the hazard. But 6 was probably the best I could do, so I just took my medicine.”