PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It wasn’t enough that the best players in the game had to get the better of a TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course that can double as a 7,189-yard migraine headache to win The Players Championship.
That a $2.25 million paycheck awaited the winner. That 15 players including A-list stars were stampeding to the finish line with legitimate chances to win, seven of whom held at least a share of the lead during the final round.
Nope, the Sunday blanket of pressure involved another tormenting factor to be conquered – the elements. But the swirling winds, occasional rain and bitter temperatures added to the heart-racing theater that featured one show-stopper after another in the final hours of the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
When the Players curtain was finally drawn, and the thrills and chills blew out to the nearby sea, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy was holding the new gold trophy.
In winning his first Players, the former Boy Wonder finally broke through to end a yearlong winless streak that was full of many close calls. With clutch shots throughout the back nine – a birdie from a fairway bunker on the 11th, another birdie from a fairway bunker on the 15th and a two-putt birdie on the 16th – McIlroy held off local favorite Jim Furyk to win by one shot.
The 29-year-old from Northern Ireland fired a final-round, 2-under-par 70 to finish at 16 under. Furyk, who at 48 was playing in his 23rd Players, closed with a 67.
Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas each shot 66 to finish in a tie for third, two shots back. Dustin Johnson (69), Brandt Snedeker (69) and Tommy Fleetwood (73) tied for fifth, three shots back.
McIlroy came into The Players with five top-6 finishes in five starts this season. But all was good, he said over and over, that demons were not haunting him. He was in a good place, he’d often say, that a new perspective he took to the course was as important as any club in his bag.
And now he’s in a great place.
“This is probably the deepest field of the year,” McIlroy said. “I’m just thankful it was my week to win.”
It was McIlroy’s 15th PGA Tour victory and first since last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.