Webb Simpson Dominates Players Championship at Sawgrass
THE only question for former US Open champion Webb Simpson as he boarded the first tee at TPC Sawgrass for the final round of the Players Championship concerned his margin of victory. After playing flawless golf for three days, the American was 19 under par and led the field, which contained every member of the world’s top 50, by seven shots.
Barring an extraordinary collapse, the final round was destined to be a victory parade around the world-famous Stadium Course. But others before him have famously come unstuck. This, however, is a man who had been on top of his game for 54 holes. On Friday, he struck his tee-shot at the par-three 17th, the world-famous island hole, into the water and yet still walked off the 18th green with a 63 to his name.
Had he birdied the hole, he would have recorded a 60, a scarcely credible score on a golf course that, although only measuring around 7,200 yards, is fraught with danger. It was mind-boggling golf.
In the end it turned into something of a procession as he carded a final round of 73 for a 72-hole total of 270, an astonishing 18 under par, and he walked away from TPC Sawgrass with a cheque for nearly $2m in his back pocket, along with a five-year PGA Tour exemption. He could even afford to put his approach to the final hole into the water, such was his dominance.
It was his fifth victory but it was probably the one that meant the most. This was his first success in four years. “It’s been a long time,” he said “But we finally did it. I kept remind myself today that the next shot was the most important. It’s easy to do it on Thursday, but it’s a lot harder to do on Sunday."
And the real interest on Sunday was in those around him. Could Tiger Woods follow his brilliant third-round 65 with another low score? Could Dustin Johnson, who started the day nine adrift, makes serious inroads into Simpson’s lead? And could Ian Poulter, who saved his career with a second-place finish here 12 months ago, produce yet another career-defining round of golf?
Even though Simpson’s lead was never threatened, it turned out to be a fascinating day.
Before the leaders had even begun, the likes of Brooks Koepka, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Justin Rose has shown them what was possible. Koepka, returning from a dreadful wrist injury, began the day two under par. He reached the turn in 32, and then added a further birdie at the 14th. He then came to the par-five 16th and brought the house down when he holed his second for an albatross. And still he wasn’t finished, following it with a birdie at the 17th to move to nine under for his round and 11 under for the tournament. A par at the last gave him a 63 and confirmed that the US Open champion is back to his very, very best.
Aphibarnrat eagled the second, birdied the fourth and then birdied the seventh, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 30, and when he added another at the 12th he was seven under for the day and 11 under for the week, level with Koepka. Sadly, the Thai golfer put two balls in the water at the 17th and ran up a seven.
Rose put together a wonderful back nine that included six birdies in seven holes but dropped a shot at the last and finished on nine under.
And then there was Tiger Woods, once again confirming that this is a proper comeback. The 42-year-old shot a 65 on Saturday and birdied three holes on the trot on his way to reaching the turn in 32. Two further birdies came at the 11th and 12th, by which point he had moved to 14 under par and was looking like finishing in second place but he dropped a shot at the 14th and, like so many others, found the water at the 17th, costing him a double bogey. In the end, he had to settle for a round of 69. He finished 11 under par and in a tie for 11th place alongside Poulter and Justin Thomas, who did enough to become the new world No 1.
And there was another great week for Tommy Fleetwood. His 12 under par total was good enough for a share of seventh.
In the end, Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele shared second place on 14 under, four adrift of Simpson, who finished with a double-bogey six at the 18th.
SWEDEN’S Joakim Lagergren claimed his first European Tour title when he defeated Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera in a play-off at Verdura Golf Club to win the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open. With Europe’s big guns in America playing in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, this represented a terrific opportunity for one of the lesser lights to grab the opportunity to taste victory and claim a two-year exemption, and Lagergran took full advantage.
He has been knocking on the door for some time, as has Lorenza-Vera, who last week finished runner-up with Romain Wattel in the GolfSixes at St Albans.
Lagrergren began the day two shots behind Lorenzo-Vera but by the time they reached the turn it was the Swede who was two ahead after four birdies. But he could only come home in 36 and allowed Lorenzo-Vera to drawn level after 72 holes.
However, a glorious approach to eight feet set up a birdie on the first extra hole secured his maiden victory. Lagergren's closing 68 took him to 16 under alongside Lorenzo-Vera - who signed for a 70. The pair finished one ahead of England's Andy Sullivan and Australian Lucas Herbert, who matched the lowest round of the week with a 63.
Dane Lucas Bjerregaard was then at 14 under, one shot ahead of Frenchman Julien Guerrier.
He is the second first-time Swedish winner in three weeks after Alexander Bjork's victory at the Volvo China Open, and comes in his 131st European Tour appearance. And he was thrilled.
"I've been waiting for this moment my whole career," he said. "I'm so relieved and I'm so happy at the moment, I can't describe it in words. I've just been fighting so hard to get to here, it's just awesome. When you're just missing out a few times you really want to get that first win and it feels like you really need to get over that first step to then really continue and get more and more. This is a big step for me."
Lorenzo-Vera was bitterly disappointed but tried to remain philosophical about a second successive runners-up finish. "What can I say? He made a birdie on the last and I didn't really have a chance," said Lorenzo-Vera. "It was the kind of day where I was a bit far from the pins so it was hard to score low for me. He took his chance better than me. I gave it a go, I tried my best, he did it better than me. Now I'm just going to have to work more to be able to finish the job."
Lagergren holed a 30-footer for his opening birdie, with Lorenzo-Vera taking advantage of a lovely approach to six feet before giving the shot straight back on the next.
Lagergren, 26, holed another long putt on the sixth to take a share of the lead and went in front on his own with a tee-shot to 12 feet on the par three seventh.
Sullivan birdied the third but, after a poor second on the sixth, he did well to drop just a single shot and that appeared to spur him on. The then holed a long putt on the seventh and a six-footer on the eighth and, when he put his second to six feet for an eagle on the ninth, he was just three off the lead.
Lagergren also birdied the ninth to lead by two at the turn but Sullivan took advantage of the par five 12th to keep in touch.
Lorenzo-Vera parred 10 hole son the trot but got his challenge erbdck on track with a superb tee-shot to three feet on the 13th but with both he and Lagergren failing to get up and down from the sand on the next, the door was open for Sullivan. The three-time European Tour winner spun his approach to the penultimate hole to three feet to move into second and he was joined by Herbert.
The 22 year old started the day eight behind the leader but birdied the fourth, eighth, ninth, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 18th to set the target just one off the lead, where Sullivan joined him after a par on the last.
Lorenzo-Vera found a nice lie after a poor tee-shot on the 17th and made the most of it, putting his approach to three feet to share the lead heading up the last.
Bjerregaard overcame an opening bogey with gains on the fourth, ninth, tenth and 12th to be right in the mix and missed a host of chances on the back nine before finding a bush on the last for a closing bogey.
England's Steven Brown and home favourite Francesco Laporta were at 11 under, a shot clear of two more Italians in Edoardo Molinari and Andrea Pavan.
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