Golf

Golf: Justin Thomas outduels Lee Westwood to capture Players Championship

MIAMI (AFP) – Third-ranked Justin Thomas outduelled Lee Westwood down the stretch on Sunday (March 14) to capture the Players Championship, taking his 14th PGA Tour title by matching the best 36-hole comeback in tournament history.

The 27-year-old American overtook England’s Westwood on the back nine with a mid-round run of three birdies and an eagle and added a crucial birdie at the par-five 16th for a one-stroke victory and his first Players crown.

“I’m so happy to be a Players champion,” Thomas said. “Probably one of the best rounds of my life tee to green.”

The 2017 PGA Championship winner hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation, firing a four-under par 68 to finish 72 holes on 14-under 274 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“I was able to play beautifully, make some good shots and some nice putts,” he said. “I was fortunate to hit it well enough that a lot of my birdies were low stress.”

Westwood, 47, closed with a 15-foot birdie putt, his round of 72 allowing him to finish second for the second consecutive week. US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau (71) and fellow American Brian Harman (69) shared third on 276.

“I didn’t feel like my legs were working properly. Lethargic really. I paid the penalty for it,” the Englishman said. “What I was pleased with was how I battled it out with not much game that I had today. I kept myself in there and gave myself a chance. Justin just didn’t make any mistakes.”

After the week’s low round with a 64 on Saturday, Thomas equalled the lowest 36-hole close in Players history, rallying from seven strokes down at the midway mark to match the best two-round victory fightback in event history.

“This win was huge,” he said. “I’m really proud of how well I played.”

He joined Tiger Woods, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus as the only players with 14 PGA Tour wins before the age of 28 and was excited to do it before a limited number of spectators after Covid-19 restrictions were eased.

“It’s hard to put into words. It has been just crazy, everything we’ve been through since the Players last year,” Thomas said. “To do it in front of fans was incredible.

“This was a day I’ll never forget.”

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