Webb Simpson navigated his way through a few mistakes but not too much stress to win the Players Championship on Sunday.
Staked to a seven-shot lead, no one got closer than four shots of Simpson, even after a double bogey on the 18th hole when his only concern was finishing the hole at the TPC Sawgrass. He closed with a one-over-par 73 for a four-shot victory, his biggest title since the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
Tiger Woods made another big run that revved up the crowd and revived hopes that he was close to winning. So did Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Danny Lee. None could do enough to catch Simpson during record scoring at the final Players Championship in May.
His only big mistake didn’t even matter. Simpson’s approach to the 18th bounded across the green and into the water. He closed with a double bogey, but that only made the final margin closer than what it really was.
“Being in that position is a lot harder than I thought,” Simpson said. “It’s hard to stay motivated to continue to do what I’ve been doing. I had a good morning, and I was able to get it done.”
Justin Thomas left the TPC Sawgrass as the No. 1 player in the world. He closed with a 66 to tie for 11th, more than enough to end Dustin Johnson’s 15-month reign at the top of the ranking. Thomas is the 21st player to reach No. 1 since the ranking began in 1986, and the seventh American.
“I’m very proud to have gotten there, but it means more to me how long I can hold it,” Thomas said in a text message.
Jimmy Walker closed with a bogey-free 67 and tied for second with Charl Schwartzel and Xander Schauffele, who also shot 67s. Walker, who struggled all of last year with Lyme disease, had his best finish since he won the 2016 PGA Championship.
Woods made the cut on the number — helped by Thomas and Jordan Spieth making bogey on the 18th hole Friday — got back to the first page of the leaderboard with a 65 on Saturday and ran off six birdies through 12 holes in the final round. He was tied for second at one point, still four shots behind, but that was as close he got. Woods made a soft bogey on the 14th hole when he missed the green with a sand wedge, and was well short of the island green in making double bogey on No. 17.
He shot 69 and tied for 11th.
“I hit the ball better today than I did yesterday, and I obviously didn’t end up with the score I needed to,” Woods said.
The final edition of May was one for the record books. Simpson tied the course record with a 63 in the second round when he seized control — even with a double bogey from the water on the 17th — and he tied Greg Norman’s 54-hole record from 1994 at 19-under 197. Simpson set a record for the largest margin through three rounds. Brooks Koepka became the eighth player with a 63 on Sunday, which featured an albatross 2 on the par-5 16th.
And there 1,754 birdies for the week, breaking by 136 the record from 1996.
But this ultimately was all about Simpson, who had missed the cut in four of his previous eight appearances at the TPC Sawgrass and had gone 107 starts on the PGA Tour since his most recent victory in Las Vegas toward the end of 2013.
He had struggled from the start of 2016, when golf’s ruling bodies outlawed the anchored stroke that Simpson used for his belly putter. He had gone to a longer handle that ran up the left side of his arm, and then Tim Clark gave him the missing link. It was at The Players a year ago when Clark suggested he also use a claw grip, and Simpson had been working his way back to golf he expects to play.
“It’s pretty special that a year later, I got this victory,” he said.
To win it on Mother’s Day nearly brought him to tears. Simpson lost his father in November, and it was the first time his mother was without him in North Carolina. Simpson said it has been hard on her, along with his siblings.
“It’s been a tough few months for my mom, my brothers and sisters,” Simpson said as his voice began to crack. “This is a little beacon of light for my mom, to get this done on Mother’s Day.”
Simpson won for the fifth time and moves to No. 20 in the world.
The rest of the tournament would have been plenty exciting had Simpson decided to call in sick for work this week. At one point, Dufner made a birdie to break out of a 10-way tie for third place.