Webb Simpson has what it takes to tame TPC Sawgrass, win Players

May 13, 2018; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Webb Simpson celebrates his wife Taylor Dowd Simpson after winning the final round of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Webb Simpson has what it takes to tame TPC Sawgrass, win Players

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Webb Simpson has what it takes to tame TPC Sawgrass, win Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Players Championship was reduced to 54 holes this year. Not officially, of course, but that’s all Webb Simpson required to effectively put victory beyond the reach of the world’s best players. Cushioned against the perils of TPC Sawgrass by a seven-stroke lead, the 2012 U.S. Open champion shot 73 – marred by a double-bogey at the last – to finish at 18-under 270 and claim the biggest title this side of the majors.

In the mortals division, it was a three-way tie four strokes back among Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele.

Simpson gingerly navigated his way around the course until his final approach shot of the day found the water left, and by then he was already home dry for his fifth PGA Tour victory and first in 107 starts. It came almost seven months after the death of his father.

“I thought about him all day,” Simpson said. “It’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom.”

He earned $1.98 million for the win, bringing his career earnings to more than $28 million. It also marks an unlikely comeback for a man whose career seemed doomed after the ban on putter anchoring came into effect in 2016. He admitted to tough times over the last two years and credited his wife, Dowd.

Many dinners, years and tears

“My wife was with me every step of the way. We’ve spent the last few years, many dinners with me in tears being frustrated about my golf game, and she was right there the whole time just supporting me,” he said, accepting the trophy.

With an assist from Tim Clark, Simpson found a putting method that works. He ranked first in strokes gained: putting at The Players, gaining more than nine shots on the field.

A large lead accommodates shaky play in a final round, but it also emboldens challengers to play aggressively. There was no shortage of low scores Sunday, but those salvos were fired mostly from the rear of the pack, too distant to unnerve their target. After three sublime rounds of 66-63-68, it was a steady if unspectacular Simpson who turned in even par, but by the time he bogeyed the 10th his lead was down to four. More importantly, his closest pursuer was the one guy whose appearance on a leaderboard still sends ripples around the course, even five years after his last win.

Tiger Woods made the cut on the number Friday evening, and a third-round 65 still left him 11 strokes off the pace. Three birdies in four holes mid-round conjured visions of an improbable charge, but a bogey at 14 ended matters for the 14-time major winner, a water ball double-bogey at 17 just the final indignity. He finished T-11.

“I got within four or five of the lead at one point, and if I would have played I think the last five holes in maybe 4, 5 under par I might have had a chance, and just didn’t do it,” Woods said.

“He’ll win sometime soon enough,” said Woods’s playing partner, Jordan Spieth. “He’s certainly playing well enough to do so.”

Spieth’s quadruple-bogey 8 at the final hole condemned him to a T-41 finish.

Patient Zero

TPC Sawgrass is the Patient Zero of brutal stadium golf, a course the world’s best usually just hope to fight to a draw. This week Pete Dye’s creation was more playpen than torture chamber, playing to a scoring average two strokes lower than in 2017. The course record of 63 was tied twice – by Simpson on Friday and Brooks Koepka on Sunday. Next year the event returns to March, when conditions tend not to be as favorable.

Sunday also reshuffled the top of the world rankings. A T-11 finish for Justin Thomas was enough to depose Dustin Johnson as World No. 1.

“It means a lot, but it’s something I want to have for a long time,” Thomas said. “It’s not something I just want to have once, to have it for a week and then be done with.”

Of course, events at the Players – Simpson’s unlikely revival, Tiger’s remarkable resurgence, Phil Mickelson’s much-mocked shirt – are a reminder that a week is an awfully long time in golf.

Gwk

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