Webb Simpson survived a test of nerve and character as he completed a dominant four-shot win at The Players Championship.
The Players Championship
Armed with a seven-shot lead after 54 holes, Simpson avoided an unwanted place in PGA Tour history as he overcame an erratic front nine before coasting to victory down the stretch, although he did find water at the last which was barely damaging with six shots in hand at the time.
The resulting double-bogey scarcely bothered him as he signed for a 73 and a winning score of 18 under par, picking up the fifth PGA Tour title of his career and his first since October 2013.
Tiger Woods was among a host of players attempting to put the pressure on the leader, the 14-time major winner getting into a share of second with his sixth birdie of the day at the 12th before he slipped out of the top 10 with mistakes at 15 and 17.
Tiger Woods reflects on his fantastic form over the weekend of The Players, which saw him nearly challenge for the championship
Simpson’s lead was trimmed to four shots when he bogeyed the 10th, but he held himself together over the remainder of his round while the race for second was shared by Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele.
There will also be a change at the top of the world rankings on Monday as Justin Thomas closed with a 66 to finish tied for 11th, good enough to end Dustin Johnson’s 64-week reign.
But it would be Simpson’s week at TPC Sawgrass, although he could be forgiven for appearing apprehensive on the first tee with the knowledge that nobody in PGA Tour history had ever blown a seven-shot lead heading into the final round.
And, after a confident first drive down the middle, his second with a wedge came up short and right of the green, although he pitched to five feet and rattled in the putt for par.
Simpson reached the second green in two only to three-putt from close to 60 feet, and he then tugged his short-iron left of the target at the third before blasting out of the sand to tap-in range.
The 32-year-old scrambled another par from six feet at the fourth, and he remained level for the day after six before settling himself with a welcome birdie at seven, draining a great putt from over 30 feet.
But he gave the shot straight back when he bunkered his tee shot to the short eighth, and his par at the ninth could hardly be described as cast-iron as he stuttered to the turn in 36.
Simpson’s composure deserted him again as he bogeyed the 10th, his 15-foot par putt lipping out, but he lifted his spirits with an excellent pitch and putt for birdie at 11 which restored his lead to five.
Following his final round at The Players, Justin Thomas insists getting to World No. 1 will happen in the future even if it’s not this week
He missed from six feet for birdie at the 12th but, with none of the chasing pack able to really pile on the pressure, Simpson negotiated the next three holes in solid pars and gave himself extra insurance by dropping a 12-footer for birdie at 16.
The 2012 US Open champion was relieved to hit the middle of the 17th green and two-putt for par, and he could even afford a wry smile at the last when he pulled his approach long and left and into the water hazard.
Schwartzel, Walker and Schauffele all fired 67s to finish on 14 under, with 2016 winner Jason Day a further stroke adrift alongside Jason Dufner, who missed a short par putt at the last which proved expensive in terms of prize money.
Brooks Koepka says it was pretty special to hit an albatross on the 16th at Sawgrass during his final round
Tommy Fleetwood celebrated his second appearance at Sawgrass with an impressive tie for seventh after he carded a 68 to reach 12 under, with last year’s runner-up Ian Poulter (69) back on 11 under with Woods.
Brooks Koepka had earlier provided some fireworks as he became only the eighth player to fire a 63 at the Stadium Course, which included a spectacular albatross two at the long 16th.