PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Twelve-hour workdays don’t come often on the PGA Tour, but Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, David Lingmerth, and a few others were forced to put in extra time to decide the Players Championship on Sunday.
That unlikely threesome, which began the day as the featured centerpiece not long after dawn — for reasons marvelous and scandalous — would hold the tournament’s fate entirely in their hands as the sun began to set. With one of golf’s most prestigious victories at stake, not to mention $1.71 million, all that was left was to find out whose hands would remain calm, and whose would uncontrollably shake.
Garcia blinked first, sending not one but two shots from the 17th tee into the cold-hearted water surrounding the famous island green when he was tied for the lead with Woods, who was standing on the 18th tee. Not long after saying he was better off not being paired in the final round with Woods (“We don’t enjoy each other’s company”), the Spaniard did his adversary the ultimate favor, handing him the outright lead by slap-shooting his way to an ugly 7 on the hole. For good measure, Garcia pumped his drive on the 18th hole into the drink and made double bogey, dropping six shots when he couldn’t afford even one.
Woods did his part, keeping his ball on dry land down the stretch and playing mistake-free on the three dangerous closing holes at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. It came on the heels of his 14th-hole blunder — when his drive found the water, leading to a double bogey — that brought Garcia, Lingmerth, and a few more back into the picture.
But when it came time to win, Woods looked like the golfer who now has 78 PGA Tour victories in 300 starts, punctuated by 14 majors. And when it came time to win, Garcia wilted.
By shooting a final-round 70, Woods’s second win at the Players Championship went into the books as a two-stroke victory, over Lingmerth (72), Kevin Streelman (67), and Jeff Maggert (70). Considering everything that went into it — a verbal spat with Garcia, the stunning double bogey with five holes to play, on a course that hadn’t treated him well in more than a decade — Woods was savoring his fourth win of the season, the earliest he’s reached that number. Which is saying something.
“I had an opportunity to win the golf tournament when I was tied for the lead today, and I thought I handled the situation well and really played well today,” Woods said. “Am I surprised? No. I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done. But I’m not.”
Once Garcia (76, T8) eliminated himself, it was left to Lingmerth, a rookie playing in just his 13th tour event, and first Players. Trailing Woods by one shot, he stuffed his tee shot at the 17th hole to 8 feet. His birdie putt to tie slid high and just right, but he gave himself one final chance, more than 60 feet for a tying birdie at No. 18. His putt to force a playoff scooted past the hole and off the green, and he missed the comebacker for par. Ranked No. 162 in the world coming into the week, he hung with the world’s top-ranked player until the final green.
“It was a great week overall,” Lingmerth said. “I’m in it to win it. Good chances there at the end, and just didn’t putt very well. I didn’t putt well all day, it felt like. Just didn’t get it today.”
Due to a weather delay on Saturday, Woods, Garcia, Lingmerth, and others completed their third rounds early Sunday morning. Lingmerth began the day with a two-shot lead, but he, Woods, and Garcia were tied at 11 under through 54 holes.
Three early birdies in the final round helped Woods build a two-shot lead, which remained until his ugly pull on No. 14 with a 3-wood. The ensuing double bogey created a four-way tie at the top: Woods, Garcia, Lingmerth, and Maggert, all at 12 under.
One by one, they fell away: Lingmerth bogeyed No. 14, and Maggert found the water at the 17th. Woods made a 7-footer for par at No. 15 — “The shot that turned the tide was the putt on 15,” Woods said. “To go double bogey-bogey would have been huge.” He then set up a tap-in birdie at No. 16 that put him in the lead by blasting out of the front bunker to 2 feet.
Garcia matched Woods with a two-putt birdie at the 16th, pulling back into a tie and setting the stage for his 7-6 finish. Five years ago, Garcia won the Players in a playoff at the 17th. Sunday, the hole seized its revenge.
“That hole has been good to me for the most part. Today it wasn’t,” Garcia said. “That’s the kind of hole it is. You’ve got to love it for what it is.”
Not much love between Garcia and Woods, which added a layer of intrigue throughout the weekend, especially when the specter of a playoff between the two seemed a real possibility. But there was more golf left, and as so often happens at the Players, late drama was played out.
“We’ve seen amazing things happen there at 16 and 17,” Woods said. “So many different things can happen, and I was hoping I would be on the good side of it.”