Players Championship: Webb Simpson wins after brief Tiger Woods charge at Sawgrass

Webb Simpson claims the Players Championship title
Webb Simpson claims the Players Championship title

Webb Simpson held off a chasing pack containing Tiger Woods to claim his first victory since 2013 with a four-shot victory at the Players Championship.

Leaderboard

-18 Webb Simpson

-14 Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker, Xander Schauffele

Final round report

Simpson took a seven-shot lead into the final round at Sawgrass, a position from which no player has failed to win in PGA Tour history, but at one point faced a charging 14-time major winner Woods.

And although the former US Open champion saw his advantage cut to four shots with eight holes remaining, a closing 73 was enough to secure a fifth PGA Tour title and the winner's cheque of almost £1.5million.

Despite a double bogey on the last, Simpson finished 18 under par and four shots ahead of Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele, with European number one Tommy Fleetwood two shots further back in joint seventh.

"It feels great," Simpson told Sky Sports. "I'm exhausted, it was a long day and it's actually probably harder work to be ahead by five or six than near the lead. I battled through, I didn't have my best stuff today but it was good enough.

"I tried to continue to reinforce that it's just one shot at a time. You have a tendency to want to fast forward and get it done but I had to pace myself and stay in it."

Woods had to settle for a tie for 11th after finding water off the tee on the 17th and making a double bogey, but the same position was good enough for Justin Thomas to replace Dustin Johnson as world number one as Johnson finished just a shot behind.

Woods recorded a hat-trick of birdies from the third and picked up another shot on the ninth to be out in 32, before narrowly missing from 25 feet for an eagle on the par-five 11th.

The 42-year-old tapped in for birdie and enjoyed a major slice of luck on the next after a wild tee shot hit a tree and bounced back to the edge of the fairway.

From there Woods pitched to four feet to set up another birdie and move into a tie for second place alongside Danny Lee, and the pair found themselves just four off the pace when Simpson bogeyed the 10th after missing the green with his approach.

However, Simpson responded with a two-putt birdie on the 11th and, after a drive of more than 350 yards on the 14th, Woods span his approach back off the front of the green and failed to get up and down.

"This weekend was extremely positive," Woods, who made the cut with nothing to spare, said on Sky Sports. "I hit a lot of good shots, and it was exciting to see a few putts go in, too.

"I hit the ball better today than I did yesterday. I hit it so good... to not really mis-hit a shot today and shoot three under par is just weird."

US Open champion Brooks Koepka had earlier equalled the course record at Sawgrass thanks to just the second albatross on the 16th in tournament history.

Koepka had already carded five birdies when he holed his second shot with a six iron from 208 yards on the par-five 16th and followed that with another two on the next on his way to a nine-under-par 63.

"It was one of those professional pushes," Koepka admitted on PGA Tour Live. "You're aiming a little left of the flag and you push it right on the flag and to be honest we couldn't tell where it landed, then everybody started screaming.

"You're not sure if it's just because it landed close but then the roars kept going so we figured it went in. It was a helluva shot and I'll definitely take two there."

Round three report

Webb Simpson is 1/10 with Sky Bet to win the Players Championship after emsuring he will take a commanding seven-shot lead into the final round at Sawgrass.

The American, who led by five shots going into the third day following his course record-equalling 63, could not quite hit those heights on Saturday, but still carded a 68 to move on to 19 under par overall.

He hit four birdies, two bogeys and an eagle three at the par-five 11th.

Webb Simpson - seven clear going into final round
Webb Simpson - seven clear going into final round

Speaking after his round in a video posted on the PGA Tour website, he said: "If you were to ask me: 'Could someone get to 19 under?', I would have said that would be really tough and the conditions have to be just right.

"On the first round, the greens are soft and gettable, yesterday was a little tougher but I had one of those magical rounds. Twelve under is in second, I would have taken that and run with it through three days.

"I feel like I'm playing good, solid golf, but so far I've holed out a few times from off the green and made some long putts, and to get to that score I think you need to do that."

New Zealand's Danny Lee was his closest challenger on 12 under after a 70, while Dustin Johnson sat in third place as a 69 left him 10 under. Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Xander Schauffele and Jason Day lay one shot further back.

Lee and Johnson are 7/2 joint-favourites in Sky Bet's market without Simpson ahead of Day at 6/1 and Speith 11/1.

The best rounds of the day, though, began to Tiger Woods, who catapulted himself up the leaderboard thanks to a dazzling seven-under 65, and Jordan Spieth, who matched that score.

Woods only beat the cut by one shot on Friday evening after posting a second-round 71, but was back to his best the following morning as he rose from tied 68th into a share of eighth place.

Woods was eight under through 12 holes and at one stage looked capable of threatening his career-best round of 61, or going even lower, but the birdies then dried up.

The 42-year-old said in a video released by the PGA Tour: "I birdied the first couple of holes and just kept it rolling. I hit a lot of good shots and it was nice to see a few putts go in. Over the whole day I hit a lot of quality shots - 65 was probably as high as I could have shot today, which was nice. To be eight under through 12, realistically, I could have got a couple more out of it and got to 10 for the day.

"I've got my playing feels back and it's just executing and putting the shots together. I knew I had to be more aggressive today and I was able to convert."

The 14-time major winner, rolled in birdies on the opening two holes - the first one from 15 feet - and the putter stayed hot on the fourth and fifth greens.

Woods drained a 17-footer on the fifth and further birdies followed at seven and nine, where he two-putted from 40 feet.

It saw Woods make the turn in 30, two shots better than his previous best front-nine score at Sawgrass and his lowest nine-hole score since 2009.

Woods picked up another shot at the par-five 11th and sank an eight-foot putt for birdie on 12.

But he made his first mistake at 14 when he caught an awful lie from a wild tee shot and an underwhelming chip resulted in a two-putt bogey.

Woods still had the course record of 63 in his sights as he began the tough last three-hole stretch.

But an eight-foot birdie chance at the 16th lipped out and his shot to the island green 17th ended 43 feet away, although he tidied up in par. Another birdie chance slipped away at the last after he had hit a nine iron from 193 yards to within 17 feet.

He is a Price Boost at 3/1 with Sky Bet to shoot 68 or less in his final round.

Spieth, who has struggled at Sawgrass in recent years, had nine birdies and two bogeys in a similarly outstanding round.

The pair were in a group of seven players on eight under, including English pair Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood.

Fleetwood carded a 68, while Poulter's 69 could have been even better but for a double-bogey six at the 18th.

Round two report

Webb Simpson had to settle for a share of the course record at Sawgrass as the famous 17th hole claimed another victim in the Players Championship.

An eagle and nine birdies, including six in a row from the 11th, left Simpson needing to birdie the final two holes to join the elite group of players to break the magical 60 barrier on the PGA Tour.

However, the former US Open champion then double-bogeyed the 17th after his tee shot hit the wooden sleepers which form the edge of the green, bounced on to the putting surface and into the water.

A par at the last meant Simpson had to be satisfied with becoming the seventh player to shoot 63 in the tournament's history, the 32-year-old's 15 under par total also equalling the 36-hole scoring record.

Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson

"I got off to a great start with an eagle on two and it was a day where on the greens everything looked good to me and I felt I was going to make putts maybe I don't normally make," Simpson told Sky Sports.

"Seventeen was a bummer but it's a tough hole. I blocked it a little bit and probably should have hit one more club, but other than that a great confidence builder for me.

"The challenge is to treat tomorrow just how I treated today, one shot at a time and try to attack when it's the right opportunity. You still have to play defensive around here whether you're five back or five ahead."

Simpson still enjoyed a tournament record five-shot lead over former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, American Patrick Cantlay and New Zealand's Danny Lee, while Tiger Woods made the halfway cut on the mark of one under par as Rory McIlroy made an early exit following a 74.

Sky Bet make Simpson their 13/8 favourite from Day at 8/1, with Ben Coley's 66/1 tip Cantlay into 10/1.

"I was just a touch off today," Woods told reporters after his 71. "I didn't make many birdies. I had my chances. I didn't hit it close enough. The course could have been had today. It's so hot, it's playing short, the greens are receptive."

Schwartzel, who had earlier added a bogey-free 66 to his opening 68, has 11 European Tour titles to his name but has won just once on the PGA Tour - the 2016 Valspar Championship - since his victory at Augusta in 2010.

But the 33-year-old has been coming into form with a third place alongside Louis Oosthuizen in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans followed by a top-10 finish at Quail Hollow on Sunday.

"I've been making a bunch of birdies in the last few weeks and making just as many bogeys and the difference this week is obviously making a lot less bogeys," Schwartzel, who has dropped just one shot in 36 holes, said.

"It started changing for me on the back nine on Friday at New Orleans. I started playing a lot better and have rolled with it. All the swing work that I've done for the last couple of months I'm feeling comfortable with it now and it's paying off."

Schwartzel has never finished inside the top 25 at Sawgrass - "I've even missed this tournament a few times, willingly!" he joked - but a new approach is paying dividends.

"It's the first time I've not come here from South Africa," he added on Sky Sports. "I normally go back to South Africa after Augusta and then fly from there and start with this tournament.

"I've played my way into it and it's obviously the way to go. This is a hard tournament to come to after a three-week break."

Round one report

Dustin Johnson signalled his intention to maintain his status as world number one with an opening 66 in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

Johnson's position at the top of the rankings, which he has held since February last year, is under threat from Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose this week.

But the former US Open champion is not about to make life easy for his rivals and carded six birdies in an error-free first round to share the lead with compatriots Webb Simpson, Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Cantlay and Sweden's Alex Noren.

Rose and Rahm are just two shots off the lead after rounds of 68, but Thomas could only manage a one-over-par 73 and Spieth struggled to a 75 which featured four bogeys, a double bogey and an eagle on the short par-four 12th.

"I haven't had the best record here but it's a golf course that I like, I enjoy playing it and I feel like I should play well here," Johnson said after his lowest score and first bogey-free round at Sawgrass in 31 attempts.

"My expectation is the same for every tournament, I want to play well and put myself in a position to have a chance to win on Sunday."

Asked about the world ranking situation, Johnson added in a post-round interview broadcast on the PGA Tour's Twitter account: "Justin [Thomas] has been pretty close to me for a while. Every week I know there's a chance that someone can pass me.

"I definitely want to stay there, but if someone passes me it's not going to change anything, I'm still going to go back the next week and try to get it back. It was a big deal to get there and it's a big deal to stay there. I like being number one so I want to stay there."

Sky Bet make Johnson their 5/1 favourite after the first day's play and offer 4/1 that either he or Noren wins.

Rose, who was playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood (69) and Ian Poulter (70) in an all-English group, was frustrated not to make more of a brilliant beginning to his round.

The Olympic champion started on the 10th and followed a birdie on the 11th by holing out from 96 yards for an eagle on the 12th, but then mixed three bogeys with four birdies.

"It was obviously a dream start but I didn't make much of it from that moment on," Rose told Sky Sports. "The 12th is a fun little hole, a risk-reward hole, and normally if you make eagle you think you're going to have a crack at the green.

"But I liked where the pin was today, there's a really tough slope that's about six, eight feet to the right of the pin that makes chipping to that pin incredibly difficult and very inviting for a wedge shot.

"And I knew that I could put the wedge in there just a little bit to the right of the pin and let it spin down. As it happened I hit my wedge straight at it and it took one bounce, checked and went in."

Former champion Sergio Garcia held the lead on seven under par before dumping his tee shot on the par-three 17th - where he made a hole-in-one in the first round last year - into the water to run up a double bogey, with a bogey on the last leaving the Spaniard on four under.

But the marquee group of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler fared even worse, Woods carding an eagle, two birdies and four bogeys in a level-par 72, Fowler returning a 74 and Mickelson a nightmare 79 after playing the last five holes in seven over par.

Second favourite is Cantlay, tipped at 66/1 by Ben Coley prior to the tournament and now 12/1.

Related links

Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp talks to Daniel Sturridge1

Sturridge hit with betting charge

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has been charged with misconduct in relation to alleged breaches of the Football Association's betting rules.

Richard Johnston on Rock The Kasbah2

November Meeting: Five to watch

We pick out five early fancies for the three-day November Meeting at Cheltenham which starts on Friday afternoon.

Rory McIlroy3

DP World Tour Championship preview

It's the final event of the European Tour season and Ben Coley has just one selection for the DP World Tour Championship.

General view of the action from Chelmsford City4

Tuesday's racing preview

Anita Chambers looks ahead to the day's action with a strong word for Regular in the juvenile event at Chelmsford on Tuesday evening.

Rob Cross, Glen Durrant and Peter Wright are in action at the Grand Slam of Darts on Monday5

Grand Slam of Darts: Day three tips

It's the final round of games in Groups E-H at the Grand Slam of Darts on Monday so here's the full order of play, match-by-match predictions and a suggested accumulator.

Most Read

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp talks to Daniel Sturridge1

Sturridge hit with betting charge

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has been charged with misconduct in relation to alleged breaches of the Football Association's betting rules.

Richard Johnston on Rock The Kasbah2

November Meeting: Five to watch

We pick out five early fancies for the three-day November Meeting at Cheltenham which starts on Friday afternoon.

Rory McIlroy3

DP World Tour Championship preview

It's the final event of the European Tour season and Ben Coley has just one selection for the DP World Tour Championship.

General view of the action from Chelmsford City4

Tuesday's racing preview

Anita Chambers looks ahead to the day's action with a strong word for Regular in the juvenile event at Chelmsford on Tuesday evening.

Rob Cross, Glen Durrant and Peter Wright are in action at the Grand Slam of Darts on Monday5

Grand Slam of Darts: Day three tips

It's the final round of games in Groups E-H at the Grand Slam of Darts on Monday so here's the full order of play, match-by-match predictions and a suggested accumulator.

Racing Tips

General view of the action from Chelmsford City

Tuesday's racing preview

Anita Chambers looks ahead to the day's action with a strong word for Regular in the juvenile event at Chelmsford on Tuesday evening.

Richard Johnston on Rock The Kasbah

November Meeting: Five to watch

We pick out five early fancies for the three-day November Meeting at Cheltenham which starts on Friday afternoon.

Check out our latest racing Nap

Daily Nap: Backing Banditry

Matt Brocklebank backs a well-treated runner from the Ian Williams yard as he returns to hurdles action at Huntingdon.

Next Race Off

22:09 Zia Park
8
(8)
Delovely Hips
J: Ry Eikleberry
2
(2)
Shug's Best
J: Jansen Melancon
10
(10)
Singing Mary
J: Enrique Gomez

Football Tips

Get your bets on!

Our best bets

Check out all of our available betting tips and previews of the forthcoming sporting action.

Royal Line (right) pulls clear to win the November Handicap

Sporting Life Tipping Record

A look at how the Sporting Life recommended bets have performed in November 2018.

Our best bets for Manchester City v Manchester United

Sterling to steal derby show

Raheem Sterling can break his goal-scoring duck against Manchester United as City look just too good for their derby rivals.