The Players: Rory McIlroy claims one-shot win in Sunday Sawgrass epic
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 18/03/19 10:43pm
Rory McIlroy overcame another poor start and a heavily-congested leaderboard to win The Players Championship after a sensational final day at TPC Sawgrass.
It was tough to keep track of just how many players led outright, or shared the lead throughout a riveting Sunday of high drama in Ponte Vedra Beach. but McIlroy was the last man standing as he held off late charges from Jim Furyk, Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas to clinch a one-shot victory.
The prospects of a first European win in the PGA Tour's flagship event since Martin Kaymer five years ago looked bleak when overnight leader Jon Rahm, playing-partner Tommy Fleetwood and McIlroy all struggled in cool, damp conditions in the early stages.
But while Rahm and Fleetwood found it difficult to find their rhythm, McIlroy regrouped after finding water at the fourth and running up a double-bogey six and managed to roll in crucial birdie putts at the sixth and ninth either side of another blemish at seven.
Final day as it happened
Relive an incredible Sawgrass Sunday at The Players Championship as Rory McIlroy landed a memorable win
McIlroy picked up further shots at 11 and 12 after lipping out from 10 feet on the 10th as he got himself under the card for the day, although he suffered another setback at the 14th when he tugged his approach into a greenside bunker, splashed out to five feet and pushed the par putt wide.
That left him one off the lead as veteran Furyk, who turns 49 in May, completed a commendable 67 with birdies at two of the last three holes to snatch the clubhouse lead away from Pepperell and Vegas, who had earlier holed the two putts of the week from 50 feet and 70 feet respectively for incredible birdies on the 17th green.
Furyk retired to the clubhouse to watch McIlroy's closing holes on television, and the four-time major champion atoned for his error at 14 with a sublime second from a fairway bunker, clipping a high fade from over 170 yards to 13 feet and converting the chance to move alongside the American on 15 under.
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McIlroy's drive at the par-five 16th leaked into the rough on the right, but he caught a favourable lie and hit a sweet eight-iron to 20 feet before safely two-putting for the birdie which took him into the outright lead with two of the most notorious holes in golf to negotiate.
And he was up to the challenge, finding dry land at the first attempt on 17 and bouncing to the 72nd tee with a par safely tucked away, and he split the fairway with his tee shot down 18 before giving himself an anxious moment with his approach.
His ball drew more than he had intended, but it landed over the pin and left him an easy two-putt for the winning par and a two-under 70, a record cheque for $2.25m, his first title for 53 weeks, and - perhaps more importantly - morale-boosting momentum to take into his latest bid for a career Grand Slam of majors at the Masters next month.
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Furyk had to settle for outright second on 15 under and his first runner-up finish since 2016, while Pepperell's encouraging debut resulted in a share of third with Vegas after both handed in six-under rounds of 66 with a glut of back-nine birdies.
Pepperell looked too far back to threaten the lead as he was nine under for the tournament with eight to play, but he propelled himself up the leaderboard with birdies at 11 and 13 followed by a brilliant chip-in for another at the 15th, which started a run of three-in-a-row which he capped with his rollercoaster putt from the fringe at the penultimate hole.
Dustin Johnson ensured he would remain at the top of the world rankings as a fourth consecutive sub-70 round earned him his first career top-10 at The Players, a 69 lifting him to 13 under and one ahead of world No 2 Justin Rose, who birdied the last to card back-to-back 68s for the weekend.
Fleetwood's one big highlight of a frustrating day was a delightful eagle at 16, although his fourth bogey of the day at the 17th and a par at the last added up to a 73 which left him tied for fifth with Johnson (69) and Brandt Snedeker (69).
As for Rahm, his overnight lead disappeared rapidly when he bogeyed three of the first four holes before birdies at six and eight revived his challenge, only for him to find water with an overly-ambitious second to the 11th that left many questioning his shot-selection.
The Spaniard's wounds had extra salt rubbed into them when he came up short with his tee shot to the 17th, and he looked a disconsolate figure trudging up the final fairway as he signed off with a 76 that dropped out out of the top 10 on 11 under par.