Webb Simpson is your 2018 PLAYERS champion. That sentence could have been written on Saturday morning as the weekend at TPC Sawgrass was a mere formality. A Friday 63 put Simpson five shots ahead going into Saturday, and he was 7 shots ahead going into the final round. Webb led the field in putting this week and was 3rd in strokes gained around the greens.
This is Webb’s 4th PGA Tour victory and his first since October of 2013. He has struggled mightily with the flat stick since the anchor ban took place 5 years ago, but a tip from Tim Clark last year has reinvigorated his career. He now has a PLAYERS Championship title to go along with his 2012 U.S. Open victory at Olympic Club (assist to Jim Furyk). Full scores
With Webb Simpson’s incredible play, the rest of the field really did play for second place on Sunday. Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker, and Xander Schauffele ended the week tied for 2nd, four shots behind Webb.
The runner-up finish was significant for each of them, just in different ways. For Walker, it was his best PGA Tour finish since the 2016 PGA Championship. Schauffele shot 68-68-71-67 in his first PLAYERS appearance, and Schwartzel notched his third straight top 10 finish (3rd at Zurich and T-9th at Wells Fargo). Most importantly, the T2 earned each of them $812,000.
For the first time since February of 2017, Dustin Johnson is not #1 in the world. Tied for the lead after the first round, DJ shot rounds of 69-71-72 and finished in a tie for 17th. That left the door open for Justin Thomas. After making the cut on the number, Thomas shot 68-66 on the weekend and vaulted himself to a tie for 11th. With seventeen top 10s and seven victories over his last 36 events, JT is a very deserving world #1.
TPC Sawgrass played unusually easy this week. The combination of accessible pins, softer greens, and unseasonably benign winds allowed for players to be aggressive. Webb Simpson had a run at the course record on Friday before a waterball on 17 caused him to “only” shoot 63. Tiger and Jordan Spieth each shot 65 on Saturday to get into the mix, and then Brooks Koepka capped the week with a final-round 63. His round included an albatross on 16 and a birdie on 17, a rare 2-2.
The Hunt Continues
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there were a few brief moments on Sunday when we thought, “he might win”. Starting the day 11 shots behind Webb Simpson, Tiger stood on the 13th tee just 4 shots back of the lead. A bogey on 14 and a water ball on 17 left him in a tie for 11th. He did shoot his lowest career round at TPC Sawgrass with a Saturday 65.
Tiger has toyed with our heart strings multiple times over the last three months. He has shown flashes of brilliance but has not been able to put 4 rounds together just yet. Sunday was the latest edition as he made mistakes with wedges and closed with a 69.
What’s shaking besides me?
One player who was clearly affected by the money implications of The PLAYERS was Jason Dufner. Through 3 rounds, Dufner was second in the field in strokes gained putting. Once the pressure was on, Dufner looked incredibly uncomfortable over the ball and made many nervy strokes on the back nine. Facing a 17-footer for birdie on 18, Dufner 3-putted and cost himself half a million dollars.
Green eggs and Hanse
Golf course architect Gil Hanse joins us for a two-part podcast. In part one, he discusses his career to date, Golden Age architecture, the Olympic Course in Rio and much more. Listen to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or the Website.