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The Journal Gazette

  • Simpson

Monday, May 14, 2018 1:00 am

Simpson steadies nerves to end 4-year drought

DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

Leader board

Final round

At TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Yardage: 7,189 Par: 72

Webb Simpson 66-63-68-73 – 270

Charl Schwartzel 68-66-73-67 – 274

Xander Schauffele 68-68-71-67 – 274

Jimmy Walker 69-68-70-67 – 274

Jason Day 69-67-71-68 – 275

Jason Dufne 72-69-66-68 – 275

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Starting with the largest Sunday lead ever at The Players Championship was harder than Webb Simpson imagined. Hearing one big roar after another from Tiger Woods playing four groups ahead of him didn't help. Through it all, Simpson managed his game and his nerves.

Only when he had the crystal trophy did he start to crack.

He looked out at his wife, Dowd, a big supporter during the past few years of frustration as Simpson coped with the ban on the anchored putting stroke he used to make two Ryder Cup teams and win the U.S. Open.

And he thought about his mother at home in North Carolina, her first Mother's Day since Simpson's father died in November.

“It's been a tough few months for my mom, my brothers and sisters,” Simpson said as his voice began to crack. “This is a little beacon of light for my mom, to get this done on Mother's Day.”

Simpson navigated his way through a few mistakes, but not too much stress in his four-shot victory Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass. Staked to a seven-shot lead, no one got closer than four shots, even after Simpson made double bogey on the 18th hole when his only remaining task was to finish the hole. He closed with a 1-over 73 when he ended more than four years without winning.

Woods made another big run that revved up the crowd and revived hopes that he was close to winning. So did Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Danny Lee. None could do enough to catch Simpson during a week of low scoring at the final Players Championship in May.

“It was harder than I thought,” Simpson said. “There's so much noise in front of us with Tiger, and you wonder what everybody is doing.”

The key moment for Simpson was hitting just short of the green on the par-5 11th to set up a two-putt birdie, and then finding the island green on the 17th when he had a six-shot lead.

“Once I got to 17 and the ball was on the green,” he said, “internally I was celebrating.”

Justin Thomas left TPC Sawgrass as the No. 1 player in the world. He closed with a 66 to tie for 11th, more than enough to end Dustin Johnson's 15-month reign at the top of the ranking. Thomas is the 21st player to reach No. 1 since the ranking began in 1986, and the seventh American.

“I'm very proud to have gotten there, but it means more to me how long I can hold it,” Thomas said in a text message.

Walker closed with a bogey-free 67 and tied for second with Charl Schwartzel and Xander Schauffele, who also shot 67s. Walker, who struggled all of last year with Lyme disease, had his best finish since he won the 2016 PGA Championship.

Woods made the cut on the number – helped by Thomas and Jordan Spieth making bogey on the 18th hole Friday – got back to the first page of the leader board with a 65 on Saturday and ran off six birdies through 12 holes in the final round. He was tied for second at one point, still four shots behind, but that was as close he got. Woods made a soft bogey on the 14th hole when he missed the green with a sand wedge, and was well short of the island green in making double bogey on No. 17.

He shot 69 and tied for 11th.

“I hit the ball better today than I did yesterday, and I obviously didn't end up with the score I needed to,” Woods said.

The final edition of May was one for the record books. Simpson tied the course record with a 63 in the second round when he seized control – even with a double bogey from the water on the 17th – and he tied Greg Norman's 54-hole record from 1994 at 19-under 197. Simpson set a record for the largest margin through three rounds. Brooks Koepka became the eighth player with a 63 on Sunday, making an albatross 2 on the par-5 16th.

The tournament will be played in March in 2019.