No one in PGA Tour history has ever lost with a seven-stroke lead entering the final round of a tournament, and Webb Simpson kept that record intact Sunday at The Players Championship.
Simpson, a Raleigh native who played collegiately at Wake Forest, was nowhere near as sharp or aggressive as he was in the first three rounds, but he found a way to steady his nerves, shrug off a double bogey at the final hole that left him at 1-over-par 73 for the final round and finish at 18-under 270 to win by four shots on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele tied for second at 14 under par, with Jason Day of Australia and Jason Dufner knotted in fifth another stroke in arrears.
The victory was Simpson’s fifth of his PGA Tour career, his first since he captured the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas in 2014, and his biggest since he won the 2012 U.S. Open.
Simpson is the ninth player to win both a U.S. Open and a Players title, joining Tiger Woods, Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Lee Janzen, Tom Kite, Raymond Floyd, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Jerry Pate.
It was all but a given the Simpson would win after he blitzed the course over the first three days. The rest of the strongest field in golf was playing for second place in the event considered to be professional golf’s “fifth major.”
He had three birdies, two bogeys and the double bogey on the closing hole on his scorecard for the final round.
“I really wanted to do this for my mom,” Simpson said after winning The Players on Mother’s Day. “It was tough to stay in the moment. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You always want to be leading going into the final round, and leading by seven is great, but it’s hard to stay motivated to continue to do what you’ve been doing.”
Simpson took home $1.98 million for his victory; only the U.S. Open pays more. The win also granted him PGA Tour membership for the next five years and three-year exemptions into all four majors.
It had been 106 starts since his last win.
“I was able to get it done today, and it means everything,” Simpson said. “There is so much that goes on behind the scenes and so many pieces to the puzzle. Had it not been for my faith, it would have been a lot harder. It was still hard, but I found a way to get it done.”
Plenty of players had great rounds on Sunday, but none made a serious run at the leader.
Schwartzel, Walker and Schauffele, last year’s Rookie of the Year, each shot 67 in the final round, but they were nothing but an afterthought.
Dufner shot 68 but left putts for birdie short on both the 12th and 13th holes, and then he three-putted the 18th for a bogey.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee, who was in the final group with Simpson on Sunday, missed three short putts on holes 9, 10 and 11 that could have put some pressure on Simpson. However, he was still was tied for second at 14 under when he hit his drive at the short par-4 12th into the pond to the left of the green and settled for bogey, all but ending any chance he had to catch the leader.
Lee, Keegan Bradley, Harold Varner III and Tommy Fleetwood of England ended the final round tied for seventh at 12 under.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka ripped off a 9-under 63 on Sunday, equaling the course record that Simpson tied as well on Friday, joining seven others who have toured the course in that number of strokes. He wound up tied for 11th at 11 under.
Koepka, who was in his third start back after from a long injury layoff caused by a torn wrist ligament, started the final round 17 shots behind Simpson. He holed his second shot on the par-5 16th for an albatross, birdied the 17th but parred the closing hole when a birdie would have given him the course record.
“I’ve been knocking on the door,” Koepka said. “Sometimes when you’re off for four months, you come back and need to play a little bit and get some rhythm. It’s nice to finally shoot a low one. I was trying to fire at every flag. I mean, what are you going to do? You stay where you are in 60th place, or you start moving up.”
Woods put a charge into the final round with six birdies in his first 12 holes to move into a tie for second, at that point just four strokes off the lead. However, he bogeyed the 14th and double-bogeyed the 17th after hitting his tee shot into the water for the first time since 2006.
“I played really good the whole weekend,” Woods said during the NBC Sports’ broadcast. “I hit it so good today, so to not really mishit a shot all day and shoot 3 under par is just weird. Had a chance this weekend, unfortunately I just didn’t cash in.”
Woods ended up tied for 11th at 277 along with Koepka, Australia’s Adam Scott, Justin Thomas, England’s Ian Poulter and Chesson Hadley, from Raleigh like Simpson.
Thomas supplanted Dustin Johnson (who finished tied for 17th) as the new World No. 1. Johnson had held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking since Feb. 19, 2017.
A tournament-record 69 players finished under par for the 72 holes.
Beginning next season, the PGA Tour’s flagship event will return to its former March date after being played in May for 12 years.
The PGA Tour heads to Texas for the next two weeks, beginning with the AT&T Byron Nelson beginning on Thursday at a new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas. The following week, the Fort Worth Invitational will be played at Colonial Country Club.