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Simpson surges to beat Finau in playoff at Phoenix Open

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PGA: Waste Management Phoenix Open - Final Round

(Reuters) – Webb Simpson stormed from two shots back with two holes to play to win a sudden death playoff with Tony Finau at the Phoenix Open golf tournament on Sunday.

Simpson sank clutch birdies on his final three holes, including the first playoff hole, to claim the victory by a stroke over the hard luck Finau.

“I didn’t have my best stuff but I hung in there,” Simpson told PGA Tour Radio after sinking a 10-foot playoff putt for the win.

Finau had missed an 18-foot birdie attempt at the par-four 18th hole.

Both players ended their final rounds at 17-under 267 at TPC Scottsdale with Simpson, who birdied the last two holes in regulation, shooting a two-under 69 and Finau a 70.

The victory was the sixth on the PGA Tour for the 30-year-old Simpson, whose last win came at the 2018 Players Championship.

Third round leader Finau had surged to a two-stroke lead after Simpson found water at the 15th hole and wound up with a bogey.

But Finau, who paid tribute to the late basketball star Kobe Bryant by wearing a copy of the Los Angeles Lakers player’s number eight jersey at the 16th hole, could not muster a birdie in the final three holes of regulation while best friend Simpson made two.

“If you are going to get beat, that’s how it should happen,” said the disappointed Finau, who was seeking his second Tour victory and first in four years.

“I definitely didn’t give him the tournament. He took the lead from me early and I got it late. But unfortunately that’s how the cookie crumbles. It was a bitter week.”

FedEx Cup leader Justin Thomas (65), two times Masters champion Bubba Watson (66) and fellow American Nate Lashley (68) shared third at 14-under.

Thomas also honored Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash a week ago near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

He wore a jersey from Bryant’s high school days in Pennsylvania at the 16th hole – that traditionally draws the largest crowds – which the PGA Tour had altered to pay tribute to Bryant by using the numbers from the basketball star’s Lakers jerseys to determine the location of the pin at the hole.

The pin for the final round was cut 24 paces (yards) from the front edge and eight from the left edge of the green to honor Bryant’s two most recognized jersey numbers.

The flag also featured his jersey numbers with a purple 24 on one side and eight on the other.

A stroke in front of Simpson after the third round, Finau bogeyed the par-four eighth hole to fall behind Simpson but he made back to back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes to push ahead before Simpson’s late comeback.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis and Christopher Cushing)

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