American Justin Thomas set the clubhouse target in the final round of the Players Championship as a shocking blunder from world No 1 Jason Day raised the prospect of a thrilling finish.
Thomas took advantage of the more benign conditions at Sawgrass yesterday to surge through the field with a closing 65, the 23-year-old carding eight birdies and one bogey to finish ten under par.
Day began the final round with a four-shot lead on 14 under, but struggled to reproduce the form which saw him equal the course record on Thursday and set a tournament record of 129 at the halfway stage.
And when he followed a bogey on the sixth with another on the ninth after amazingly fluffing three consecutive chips from the side of the green, his lead was down to two shots over former Walker Cup player Thomas.
Day was looking to join Tiger Woods (twice), Tom Watson and Johnny Miller in recording multiple wire-to-wire wins in a season following his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
And the 28-year-old Australian was also seeking his tenth PGA Tour title, a third win of 2016 and an incredible seventh victory in his last 17 events, a run which included his record-breaking first major title in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Victory would also see Day join Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer as the only players to win the Players Championship, a major title and a WGC event in their career.
Rory McIlroy’s bid to join that exclusive club would have to wait until next year, the world No 3 climbing into third place with three birdies in the first 11 holes before a bogey on the 13th, where he pulled his tee shot into the water, dropped him back to seven under.
Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose, pictured, was among the players to show what was possible in the conditions, the former US Open champion finishing five under after a closing 66 containing two bogeys and eight birdies, the last four coming in a row from the 14th. “They definitely backed up the greens today,” Rose said. “I think there was only one cut and one roll instead of... I don’t know what the heck they did yesterday. It was fun. We knew we were going to get some decent scoring conditions playing early this morning so it was nice to finish strong with a 66.”
Rose was one of the few players to take a positive approach to the tough conditions despite a 78 on Saturday, seeing them as good preparation for the upcoming US Open at Oakmont. “Once I got my head around it I quite enjoyed the challenge and relished it because Oakmont is going to be somewhat similar,” he added. “Once my score started going sideways I started to use it as practice to get my eye in.”