Top-ranked Tiger Woods won The Players Championship, his fourth PGA Tour victory in seven starts this year.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — As The Players Championship wound down Sunday, there were as many compelling stories on the leaderboard as there were golf balls in the water surrounding the tournament’s signature hole, the par-3 17th.
Those who held at least a share of the final-round lead included Jeff Maggert, a 49-year-old trying to win his fourth PGA Tour event in his 586th start, and David Lingmerth, who was poised to win his first Tour event in his 13th start. There were sparring partners, Sergio Garcia and top-ranked Tiger Woods, who were separated for the fourth round but tied with two holes to play.
By the end of the day, the great stories had fallen away and the greatest player stood alone. Woods, summoning the kind of steely golf that eluded his closest competitors down the stretch, won for the fourth time in seven starts this year. On a warm, breezy day, he carded a 2-under-par 70 for a 72-hole total of 13-under 275, two strokes better than Maggert (70), Lingmerth (72) and Kevin Streelman (67).
“Am I surprised?” the 37-year-old Woods said during a news conference. “No. I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done. But I’m not.”
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The victory, Woods’ 78th on the Tour, came in his first start since the Masters, where he received a controversial reprieve wrapped in a two-stroke penalty from the Augusta National rules committee a day after taking an improper drop during his second round. The incident cast a shadow so long it darkened his round Sunday.
On the par-4 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass, Woods hooked his tee shot into the water. He took a drop that was questioned by NBC announcer Johnny Miller, a winner of two majors.
Woods’ playing partner, Casey Wittenberg, had the best view of the flight of Woods’ ball. “I told him exactly where I thought it crossed,” Wittenberg said, “and we all agreed, so he’s definitely great on that.”
Mark Russell, a Tour rules official, concurred.
Woods atoned for his bad drive at No. 14 with the kind of precise shotmaking Pete Dye had in mind when he designed the course. Woods made the victory in an event sometimes called the “fifth major” look easy, no small feat on a layout that has given him trouble — though he also won here in 2001.
“It was fast and difficult,” Woods said of the course conditions, “and I hit it so good today, it was fun.”
Woods’ path to the award ceremony was cleared when Lingmerth missed a 73-foot birdie attempt at the last hole (and then missed the comebacker) and Maggert and Garcia plunked their tee shots in the water at No. 17.
Garcia, who came to the hole tied for the lead with Woods at 13 under, deposited two shots in the water, both landing in the same general spot, and walked off the green with a quadruple-bogey 7. Garcia (76) made a double bogey at the last hole to finish in a seven-way tie for eighth.
“I just underhit it a little bit,” said Garcia, referring to the first water ball. “I felt, with a little bit of adrenaline and stuff, I didn’t want to shoot it over the green.”
Woods birdied No. 16 and hit turf instead of water from the tee on the last two holes, leading to pars. He earned $1.71 million for the victory.
Kyle Stanley (74) of Gig Harbor tied for 33rd place at 3 under.
Lingmerth’s biggest break of the fourth round might have come when he was paired with Garcia in the final group instead of Woods. They were co-leaders after completing 54 holes in 11 under early Sunday morning.
Playing with Woods, who draws large, rowdy galleries, is akin to trying to hit a golf ball on an airport tarmac while planes are taking off. In Woods’ three previous victories this year, none of the players in his fourth-round, final-group pairings broke par. Wittenberg continued the trend with a 75.
Some people theorize players try too hard to show Woods they are not just another face in the field. Brandt Snedeker, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, had another explanation.
“I just think it’s tough being in the final group with Tiger just because there is a lot more attention on you,” he said. “But on top of that, we’re playing very tough golf courses in very tough conditions.”
Garcia, who posted a 72 in the third round to Woods’ 71, has not fared well in their pairings. In 20 head-to-head meetings, he has posted the better score three times (four times they have tied). The chilliness between them Saturday was more unpleasant than the searing humidity. Woods pulled a wood out of his club on the second hole Saturday, setting off cheers, as Garcia was hitting his approach.
In interviews Sunday after the third round, Garcia wore his spleen on his sleeve.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said of Woods. “He’s not my favorite guy to play with. He’s not the nicest guy on Tour.”
In a Golf Channel interview, Garcia said, “We don’t enjoy each other’s company. You don’t need to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.”
|Tiger Woods this season|
|Sunday marked Woods’ 78th PGA Tour win. Sam Snead had a record 82 career victories, but Snead didn’t win his 78th Tour event until he was 46 years old. Woods is 37.|
|2013||Events||Cuts made||Top 10 finishes||Wins||Avg.||Earnings|
|Source: espn.com, PGA Tour|