Former US Open champion Webb Simpson finished a four-stroke, wire-to-wire triumph at the Players Championship on Sunday to end a four-year victory drought.
A double-bogey at the final hole was just a blip for the 32-year-old Simpson, who signed for a final-round 73 and an 18-under par total of 270 at TPC Sawgrass.
“Man, it means everything to me,” Simpson, who won the US Open in 2012, said. “I feel like it’s my first win. I feel so similar to how I felt in Greensboro back in 2011.
“To win a major championship and a few other Tour events and then go – I guess it’s over four years without a win, I never doubted myself, but at the same time, that’s a long time.”
The North Carolina native was never headed since sharing the lead on day one and then storming five shots clear of his rivals on day two in shooting a course record-equalling 63.
Simpson took a tournament-record seven-shot lead into the final round and marched to the victory as would-be challengers, including 14-time major champion Tiger Woods fell by the wayside.
Playing partner Danny Lee of New Zealand quickly cut Simpson’s lead to five with birdies at the second and third.
Simpson stalled with six straight pars before a first birdie of his round at the par-four seventh that took him to 20-under.
Simpson gave the shot straight back in finding a greenside bunker at the par-three eighth, and as he headed to his final nine holes his biggest threat wasn’t Lee but two-time Players winner Woods.
Woods had produced his best ever round at TPC Sawgrass with a 65 on Saturday, and was 14-under through 12 and sharing second place thanks to six birdies.
It would, however, be the highwater mark of Woods’s challenge.
He dropped a shot at 14 then took a double bogey at the 17th where he was in the water surrounding the famed island green.
His three-under 69 left him with a share of 11th place on 11-under par.
“I didn’t play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling,” Woods said.
“I hit the ball well, I controlled it and I made some putts. I knew my putting was right around the corner, I knew I was close because I hit good putts that just didn’t go in.
“It was just a matter of time, and this weekend was it.”
Joining Woods in the group on 11-under was Justin Thomas – whose final-round 66 for 277 was good enough to dethrone Dustin Johnson atop the world rankings.
Thomas, who came into the week ranked second, becomes the 21st different player to hold the top spot, ending Johnson’s 64-week reign.
‘Little beacon of light’
Simpson finished four shots in front of a trio of players: South African Charl Schwartzel and Americans Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele who all fired final-round 67s to finish on 14-under 274.
Simpson’s lead was down to four shots when he bogeyed the 10th, but he moved to 20-under for the tournament with birdies at the two par-fives on the back nine, the 11th and 16th.
Having holed a par putt from the fringe at the treacherous 17th he arrived at the last leading by six shots – only to find the water with his approach en route to a double-bogey six.
The late stumble couldn’t dim his joy in the victory, his fifth on the US PGA Tour and his first since 2013.
“There’s been some tough moments along the way,” said Simpson, whose father died in November. “It’s been a tough few months for my mom, my brothers and sisters. This is a little beacon of light for my mom, to get this done on Mother’s Day.”