TIGER Woods claimed his 78th PGA Tour title and the richest prize in golf as Sergio Garcia’s hopes of a second Players Championship fell victim to the infamous 17th hole at Sawgrass.
After two days in which their personal animosity was made a matter of public record, Woods and Garcia found themselves tied for the lead with two holes to play and the winner’s cheque of £1.1million in the balance.
But after Woods made a safe par on the 17th, Garcia dumped two balls into the water short of the island green to end his hopes with a quadruple-bogey 7.
Playing partner David Lingmerth somehow ignored all the drama to hit his own tee shot to seven feet, but the Swedish rookie missed the birdie putt that would have taken him into a share of the lead and bogeyed the last trying to force a play-off.
That meant Woods’ closing 70 and 13-under-par total of 275 was good enough for a two-shot win over Lingmerth, Jeff Maggert and Kevin Streelman, the 37-year-old now just four wins away from equalling the record 82 PGA Tour victories of Sam Snead. It was also his fourth win in his last five events – he was fourth in the Masters last month – and a second Players Championship title 12 years after his first. Garcia found more water on the 18th for a double-bogey 6 and a closing 76 to finish six shots behind. The Spaniard’s tumble saw Scotland’s Martin Laird, who earlier finished with an excellent 67, move up to a three-way tie for fifth just three shots off Woods at ten-under. Rory McIlroy closed with a 70 to finish tied tenth at seven-under.
Woods went into the final round tied for the lead with Garcia – who on Saturday labelled the world No 1 “not the nicest guy on Tour” – and Lingmerth and despite only one of his previous 77 professional victories having come at Sawgrass, he reached the turn with a two-shot lead. Making his 300th career start on the PGA Tour – he also won on his 100th and 200th starts – Woods birdied the second and fourth to move into the outright lead and, after a bogey on the sixth bounced back with a birdie from 15ft on the seventh.
After Maggert closed to within a shot, Woods restored his two-shot lead with a birdie on the 12th and looked in cruise control, only to hook his tee shot on 14 into the water and run up a double-bogey 6.
It was difficult to tell where Woods should drop the ball – bringing back memories of his two-shot penalty at the Masters – and the conjecture forced the PGA Tour rules committee to clarify the situation. Their statement read: “Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods’ ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow competitor. If that point later proves to be a wrong point (through television or other means), the player is not penalised by Rule 26-1 given the fact that a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect.”
Maggert showed what was in store for Garcia when his hopes came to a watery end on the 17th. Woods edged in front with a birdie on the 16th that was matched by Garcia, only for hopes of a thrilling finish to be dashed on the next.