By Edgar Thompson
(TNS) — Tiger Woods put on another show, turning up the volume at TPC Sawgrass and briefly turning The Players Championship into a tournament.
But any Sunday drama ultimately would feel a bit staged. After all, winner Webb Simpson essentially had closed the curtain a day earlier.
Final-day fireworks at The Players Championship did not appear to be in the offing with Simpson holding a seven-shot lead entering the final round.
But a day after he carded a career-best 65 at the Stadium Course, Woods was able to create his share of excitement. Four front-nine birdies and another at No. 11 pulled him within four shots of Simpson, who had begun to wobble for the first time in four days.
Woods’ charge soon would run out of steam and the 42-year-old limped to the finish, landing in a six-way tie for 11th place. Even so, the 79-time PGA Tour winner took only positives from the weekend after he made the cut on the number Friday following two pedestrian rounds.
“This weekend was more like it,” Woods said.
Plenty of flashes of vintage Woods materialized during the final 36 holes at TPC.
On Sunday, Woods blasted drives well over 300 yards, fired at pins, sank clutch putts and got up-and-down from difficult situations much to the delight of the galleries swarming around him and 24-year-old golden boy Jordan Spieth.
“If I would have had the game I had this weekend the beginning of the week,” Woods said, “I would have given Webb a little bit of a run.”
Woods did close enough ground on Simpson to make things interesting, leading one fan on the front nine to bellow, “Make Sundays great again!”
But the ultimate closer in the history of the game, playing just his eighth tournament since his comeback from spinal-fusion surgery 13 months ago, faded down the stretch.
Following a 354-yard drive on the par-4 14th hole, Woods faced a 94-yard shot, but his approach shot spun back off the green. Woods missed a par putt just inside of 10 feet to drop his first shot of the day.
Moments earlier, Simpson had birdied the par-5 11th hole to get back to even par for the day and maintain a five-shot lead on the rest of the field. Simpson closed with a double-bogey 6 to finish 18-under-par 270 total to earn his first win since 2013 and pick up the $1.98 million winner’s check.
“If I would have played the last five holes maybe in 4-, 5-under par, I might have had a chance, and just didn’t do it,” said Woods, who finished 11-under par for the week, including 10-under on the weekend.
Simpson, though, would not be denied by Woods or anybody in a field featuring each of the top-50 players in the world rankings.
Afterward, Simpson dedicated to win his mother, who watched on television from her home in Raleigh, N.C. It was Debbie Simpson’s her first Mother’s Day without her husband and Simpson’s father, Sam, who died in November at age 74.
“I thought about her a lot today, and I knew she was watching every shot,” Webb Simpson said. “It was for her, for sure.”
Simpson removed most of the suspense at TPC Friday when he tied the course record with a 63. He really never looked back.
En route to his first victory in 107 starts, the 32-year-old ended Saturday 19-under-par and tied for the largest 54-hole lead in The Players Championship history. The only question seemed to be whether Simpson would better the tournament scoring mark of 24-under-par set in 1994 by Greg Norman.
Instead, Sunday turned into a bit of struggle for Simpson, who shot a 1-over 73. It proved more than enough for a four-shot win over three players, including major champions Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker.
“I kept reminding myself today that the only thing that matters is my next shot,” Simpson said. “It’s easy to do on Thursday. It’s a lot harder to do today.”
Woods’ Sunday charge intensified the internal pressure on Simpson, especially when he sandwiched bogeys on the eighth and 10th holes around a par save outside of five feet.
“There’s so much noise in front of us with Tiger,” he said, “and you wonder what everybody is doing.”
Simpson would settle down, stick to his process and make a routine birdie at the par-5 11th. A missed four-footer for birdie on the short par-4 12th was surprising after three rounds of virtually flawless putting.
The miss proved to be irrelevant. No one got closer than four shots of Simpson all day.
Once Woods was within striking distance, he began to back up. He was 3-over-par during his final six holes, including a double-bogey 5 after he found the water right of the par-3 17th hole island green.
But a 3-under-par 69 and finish just outside the top 10 was good enough for Woods. This day belonged to Simpson, but Woods said one Sunday soon will be his to celebrate.
“I’m not that far off from winning golf tournaments,” he said.
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