PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Justin Thomas found the timing to be near-perfect to get the year off to a tough start to Sunday’s Players Championship.
He won his 14th career title for the seventh consecutive year and was only the fourth player to win a major, the Players Championship, the FedEx Cup and a World Golf Championship.
Thomas called it tee-to-green better than ever, and it took him to get through Lee Westwood, who was unlucky for the second week in a row. Westwood screwed the final hole for a 72 to finish a shot behind TPC Sawgrass.
In January, Thomas made an anti-gay bow after missing a short putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii. This resulted in one corporate sponsor dumping him and another issuing him a public reprimand. Once, when he got the chance to win, he learned that his grandfather had died before the final round of the Phoenix Open.
“It’s been a shitty couple of months. I’ve had things in my life that I never thought would have happened,” said Thomas. “Losing grandpa was horrible and had to play a round of golf to deal with it and not play well on top of that, it was just a lot and it took a lot of mental strain on me.
“This week has been huge to win another big championship like this in front of fans, which is incredible. It has tested me mentally, physically and emotionally and I am very proud of myself that I made it.”
Like most Sundays at this championship, it was wild as always.
Thomas was four strokes behind when he went off the green with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 eighth note. Four holes later, he walked away from the 12th green with a two-shot lead.
He hit a 5 iron at 20 feet to set up a two-putt birdie on the ninth par-5. He picked up a hard needle in 10th place for a 6-foot yardage. He drilled a 4 iron at 20 feet for an eagle in 11th place for his first lead of the week and finished the run with a nifty pitch behind the green on the attainable par 4-12 for birdie.
Westwood, who was runner-up at Bryson DeChambeau in Bay Hill last week, had to take the lead on Sunday until he could no longer keep up with Thomas, who was playing in the group in front of him on the par 5-16 course.
Pushing it low, Thomas hurled a hard, low pull that came out about 40 yards and set up a 5-wood at 50 feet that he held back for a two-putt birdie. Westwood’s 3-iron cut a tree and fell in the sand, and that whimsical 65-yard shot went into another bunker, forcing him to look for par.
“When you’re in competition, you want to win every tournament you play,” Westwood said after a 72. “But I didn’t quite have my game today.”
He made birdie on the 18th and finished second on his own. DeChambeau (71) and Brian Harman (69) were another shot behind.
Thomas finished 14 under 274. He was out of the line after nine holes on Friday, made it with two strokes and combined the Players Championship record with a weekend under 12 under 132.
Thomas had one more shot before he was clear. He picked up the water that framed the left side of the 18th fairway. The ball moved from right to left and ricocheted off the top of the first cut safely in the fairway. Only when he saw it ashore did Thomas turn his bat, pull his cap over his face and wipe his forehead.
“I fought so hard today,” said Thomas. I’ve seen some crazy things on TV in the past and I’m glad to be on this site. ”
All that “crazy stuff” came early.
DeChambeau climbed a hybrid on the fourth par four hole, which was only about 140 yards long before it plunged into the water.
I do not know what happened! “He said to his caddy.” I’ve never done that before. “
From 237 meters on a front tee to a green protected by water, he hit a target with a 4 iron that landed about 40 meters to the right of the green.
“Oh my god! What’s wrong?” Said DeChambeau.
He did a double bogey and scratched the rest of the way to stay in the game. He still had a chance with an eagle on the 16th hole to come within two, but when Thomas made par 17th his chances were almost over.
Westwood hit his tee shot into the water on the fourth hole and had to take an 8-foot shot to save Bogey. He approached the pine straw that had cut two branches and found water on the second hole of par 5 to go bogey. But he was never far from the lead, and Westwood regained part of the lead on the 14th with an 8-foot birdie putt.
His hopes ended with a three-putt bogey on 17th par-3.
Thomas won $ 2.7 million out of his $ 15 million wallet. He said he was in a good place when he tee off and he felt even better posing with the trophy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.