Thomas edges Westwood to win Players Championship

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas recorded his 14th win on the PGA Tour
-14 J Thomas (US); -13 L Westwood (Eng); -12 B DeChambeau (US), B Harman (US); -11 P Casey (Eng), T Gooch (US); -10 C Conners (Can),
Selected others:-9 S Lowry (Ire); -8 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), S Garcia (Spa); -1 D Johnson (US), J Spieth (US)

Justin Thomas emerged on a hectic final day to win the Players Championship by one stroke as Lee Westwood finished runner-up for a second successive week.

The world number three produced some sensational golf to post a four-under 68 as he came from three back to win his 14th PGA Tour title on 14 under.

Westwood led heading into Sunday’s action at TPC Sawgrass but was pegged back after a wobble on the front nine.

He finished one ahead of Bryson DeChambeau, who beat him last week.

American Brian Harman made three birdies on the back nine to also finish two back at 12 under par.

England’s Paul Casey threatened to challenge but his five birdies were offset by three bogeys to leave him at 11 under par for the tournament.

American Taylor Gooch also finished three off the pace set by 27-year-old Thomas, with Canada’s Corey Connors a further stroke behind.

Thomas muscles in on final showdown

It was billed as the rematch, with Westwood and DeChambeau going head-to-head in the final group for the second week running on the PGA Tour.

The American edged to a one-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational seven days ago but it was Westwood who made a quick start on Sunday as he opened with a birdie.

What followed was madness. Westwood found the water at two and bogeyed, before slicing his tee shot at four into another water hazard, but only after DeChambeau – the longest driver on tour – had topped his tee shot 100 yards into a different body of water.

DeChambeau then leaked his third shot onto the cart path before making a wonderful recovery to escape with double bogey, while Westwood tidied up for just one dropped shot of his own.

The world number six birdied the seventh before both dropped again at eight, but when Westwood reclaimed his two-shot lead with a well-made birdie it at nine it looked like the rest of the field had failed to capitalise on their struggles.

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood finished second for the second successive week on the PGA Tour

What golf’s newest rivalry had not banked on was the sudden emergence of world number three Thomas, who bogeyed the eighth but surged into top spot after going birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie to reach 14 under par by the 12th and give himself a two-stroke lead.

Thomas had fired his way into contention with an eight-under 64 on Saturday, admitting afterwards he has experienced a “fair share of lows this season” and “a lot of stuff mentally that I’ve never had to deal with”.

The American was dropped by clothing brand Ralph Lauren after television microphones picked up him using a homophobic slur during the Sentry Tour of Champions in Hawaii in January, while the 27-year-old also lost his grandfather earlier this year.

An uncharacteristic missed putt on the 14th at Sawgrass, his first from inside three feet this season, saw his advantage cut to one before Westwood rejoined him in the lead with a superb birdie at 14, only for Thomas to hold his nerve and edge clear once more at 16.

Westwood has won 44 professional tournaments, claimed victories across four different decades and won the European Tour’s order of merit title for the third time in December to become the oldest Race to Dubai champion.

But the 47-year-old has not won on the PGA Tour since June 2010 at the St. Jude Classic and when he bogeyed 17 the Players title was all but Thomas’.

He polished off a par at 18 to sign for a four-under 68 and, despite Westwood making birdie at the last, registered his first win since the WGC-St Jude Invitational in August.

“It’s been a long year, but they (my family) are always so supportive of me,” said Thomas. “When you are in a tough place mentally or don’t feel as great, to have a support system like that is huge.”

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