By Sam McPherson
There was little suspense on Sunday at the The Players Championship, as American Webb Simpson began the fourth round with a seven-shot lead and cruised to his his first victory in five years with relative ease. Finishing at 18-under par, Simpson won the PGA Tour’s unofficial “fifth major” by four strokes. He earned $1.98 million, for his biggest payday since winning the 2012 U.S. Open.
Despite carding a 73 in the final round, Simpson never had his lead truly threatened, reducing the TPC Sawgrass course and its potential for excitement to merely a curiosity on Mother’s Day. Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker finished in a three-way tie for second place, while Jason Day and Jason Dufner tied for fifth place with at 13-under.
This was Simpson’s fifth career win on the Tour, but his last title came in October 2013 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Since winning the U.S. Open in 2012 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Simpson hasn’t finished better than 13th in a major, which came in 2016 at the PGA Championship.
However, he was in the thick of things at Sawgrass from the start of the event. Six players were tied for the lead at 6-under after Thursday’s opening round, including five American players. Sweden’s Alex Noren was the lone exception, as his 66 matched that of Patrick Cantlay, Chesson Hadley, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Simpson.
Simpson owned the second round, shooting a 63 to take a five-shot lead after Friday’s play. The score matched the course record at TPC Sawgrass, and Simpson also tied Day’s 2016 record of being 15-under par halfway through the event. Meanwhile, Cantlay finished Friday tied for second, along with Danny Lee and Schwartzel, at 10-under.
On Saturday, Simpson added to his lead by posting a 68, leaving him with a seven-shot edge over Lee heading into the final round. Johnson was in third place, nine strokes behind Simpson. Both Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods shot 65 in third round to capture the imagination and interest of the crowds at TPC Sawgrass, although both found themselves still 11 shots out of the lead.
Woods, once the game’s most dominant player, shot 69 on Sunday to finish in a tie for 11th at 11-under par. Meanwhile, Justin Thomas took over the world’s No. 1 ranking with his 11th-place finish after carding a 66 in the fourth round. Johnson had been No. 1 in the world for 15 straight months, but he posted a 72 on Sunday to drop into a tie for 17th, which cost him the top spot in the rankings.
Brooks Koepka tied the course record on Sunday with a 63 that included a double eagle on the 16th hole. It was just the second such score on the 16th hole in 37 years of the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass — and the fourth double eagle in the event’s history overall. Koepka also finished in a tie for 11th overall.
Next On The Tee: AT&T Byron Nelson
The PGA Tour heads to Texas this week for the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas. This is the first time the event is being held on this course, as Billy Horschel won the event last year at TPC Las Colinas, where the Byron Nelson had been held since 1983.
Horschel is back to defend his title on the new circuit, along with recent Byron Nelson winners Sergio Garcia (2016), Steven Bowditch (2015), Brendon Todd (2014), and Sang-moon Bae (2013). Coming off their strong performances at The Players Championship, Kuchar, Spieth and Walker are also scheduled to play in Dallas.
The Trinity Forest course was designed in part by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, and there are no trees on the circuit despite its name. The course is used regularly by the Southern Methodist University varsity golf teams, and it is a links-style course built on a former landfill.
The Trinity Forest Golf Club course plays 7,450 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker
Players to Watch: Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Adam Scott
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.