PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It was clear that the final round of the Players Championship might not unfold as expected, when Bryson DeChambeau took one of his remarkable swipes and barely made contact with the top of his golf ball, which dived nose and sparkled in a pond, about 100 meters further.
Lee Westwood, who led the tournament, was on the same tee and predicted the duel all Sunday afternoon after DeChambeau, who was in second place after the first three rounds. Westwood hit a chip that was so crooked that it would warm the heart of the everyday hacker. Westwood’s ball splashed into a pond other than DeChambeau’s, but the tone for the day was undeniably cast.
Justin Thomas, who played for DeChambeau and Westwood, was unaware of the problems that were going on behind him. But he had a thorough understanding.
“I’ve been watching this tournament for years,” Thomas said, “and I know a lot of crazy things can happen.”
Thomas started the final round with three strokes behind Westwood, but overtook him and DeChambeau to put the tournament ahead with an eagle on the 11th hole. From there, while his rivals faltered, he was steady, especially when he made the 16th birdie and made grainy pars on the two treacherous locks on the TPC-Sawgrass track.
On a day of unforeseen ups and downs, Thomas’ consistency led to a one-win and another notable title, his 14th at the PGA Tour. Thomas, 27, also won a PGA Championship and the 2017 FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I was bold when I had to be – I dared,” said Thomas, who finished the tournament at 14 under par. “But I was also patient when things did not go exactly as planned, because you knew it would be such a day.”
The victory was also a blow in a stormy year for Thomas, the second golfer in the world.
In January, a microphone on television caught him muttering a homophobic failure to himself after a brief miss at the Sony Open. Thomas immediately apologized and did not shy away from the consequences, which include a scream on social media and the loss of his clothing sponsor.
In February, his 89-year-old grandfather, Paul, a PGA professional with whom Thomas spoke daily, passed away. Later that month, Tiger Woods, who became one of Thomas’ closest friends, was seriously injured in a car accident.
Since the accident, Thomas has been in contact with Woods almost daily, including Sunday when Woods congratulated Thomas before the final round. In his last four tournaments this year, Thomas looked distracted and produced poor results, especially for a player from his recent pedigree.
“It’s been a bad few months,” Thomas said after Sunday’s victory. He added: ‘I told my family I’m ready to make something good happen this year. I would say it qualifies. ”
Thomas was in danger of missing the cut, with nine holes remaining in his second round on Friday, but he hit four birdies on the back nine to earn a spot in the final two rounds. He started Sunday with seven consecutive presses on a hot but mostly windless day in northeast Florida. Although the conditions were benign, it still did not lead to very low scores in the demonic design of Pete Dye. Thomas, whose final 36-hole score of 12 under par was a tournament record, jumped with the birds on the ninth, tenth and twelfth holes at the top of the standings – along with his eagle on the 11th hole par 5 .
With DeChambeau and Westwood, the two leading contenders for last week’s Arnold Palmer invitation, behind, but not completely out of the picture, Thomas came to the par-5 16th hole that needed a daring strike. For his second shot off the field, Thomas hit a daring 5-wood that curled from 228 yards on the 16th green. It was Thomas’ first attempt at an eagle shot in his career on the 16th hole on the golf course, which he did not make from 46 feet. But he taps the ball in for an important, timely birdie.
“I was proud to have taken a few chances that paid off,” Thomas said.
A second consecutive second place did not leave Westwood, who turns 48 in April, discouraged. He appears with a wide smile at a news conference.
“I’m just having so much fun – everyone’s still telling me how old I am,” Westwood said laughing. “I’m still here to take part in tournaments and play in final groups with big players.”
DeChambeau said he had never hit a shot in the competition, such as hitting wrong on the fourth hole of the tee on Sunday, but he was also not disappointed.
“I do not know what happened at four. That’s the game, and I’m OK with that, ‘said DeChambeau. ‘Still smiling afterwards. It seemed for some reason that something would not go my way today. I could just feel it. It was weird. ”
Despite the result, Thomas was not afraid for at least one moment that one of his shots would find a water hazard at an inconvenient time. His ride of the 18th tee ends up just a few feet from the large pond to the left of the clearing.
“I thought it was 50-50 whether it was going to be dry or in the water,” Thomas said of the shot, which was off the danger right with the first bounce.
He continued, “If you win tournaments, you get such lucky breaks.”