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Simpson grabs lead, Watney exits with COVID-19 at Harbour Town

(This June 19 story corrects final paragraph to eliminate Rory McIlroy’s name from list of players who did not make the cut)

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(Reuters) - Webb Simpson delivered a putting master class to grab the lead and Nick Watney withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19 at the second round of the RBC Heritage in South Carolina on Friday.

Former U.S. Open champion Simpson mixed nine birdies with three bogeys for a six-under-par 65 that left him at 12 under for the week at Harbour Town course on Hilton Head Island and one shot clear of Bryson DeChambeau (64) and Canadian Corey Conners (63).

“I had a few par savers that kind of kept my momentum going, but I did drop three shots, all kind of physical errors,” said world No. 9 Simpson. “I’m thinking well right now, so I’d rather physical errors than mental errors.”

The brilliant play of the leaders, who went out in the morning wave when scoring conditions were ideal before inclement weather forced a brief halt to play in the afternoon, took a back seat to the news of Watney’s positive test. [nL8N2DW58L]

Watney said he felt symptoms of the disease when he arrived to the course and got his positive result before starting his second round. He played his first round on Thursday alongside fellow Americans Vaughn Taylor and Luke List.

The result makes Watney the first golfer inside the PGA Tour’s “bubble” to test positive for the disease since it returned from a three-month hiatus last week in Fort Worth, Texas, where Watney also competed.

Vaughn, who will be tested again as part of the PGA Tour’s protocol, learned about Watney’s positive test midway through his second round.

“Heart started racing, got a little nervous,” a shaken Vaughn told reporters. “Just hope Nick’s doing well and we get through this.”

World number one Rory McIlroy said Watney texted him the news since the two had chatted with each other on a practice green earlier on Friday.

“We were at a distance. He was just saying, look, I hope I didn’t get too close to you,” said McIlroy. “He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course.

“I said, look, it’s fine. You never know. So I said to him, if I was in your position, I probably would have been here too. Look, at this point, you just have to concentrate on getting better and getting healthy.”

Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed were among the players who missed the cut on Friday.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Brown and Michael Perry

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