Some golf fans don’t like the way that the Players Championship is called the fifth major. It’s a bit of a marketing gimmick used by the PGA Tour to talk up their flagship tournament but it does capture the importance and size of the Players Championship.
Every year, the strongest field in professional golf turns up to TPC Sawgrass to do battle. The inaugural edition of the Players Championship was won by Jack Nicklaus and that sets the tone nicely for a winners’ list which features many of the best golfers of all time. The golfers aren’t the only stars on show, though. The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass lives up to the name with inbuilt viewing areas for fans and a finishing stretch of holes that guarantees drama including the iconic island green 17th hole.
|2021||TPC Sawgrass||Justin Thomas|
|2019||TPC Sawgrass||Rory McIlroy|
|2018||TPC Sawgrass||Webb Simpson|
2021: Justin Thomas
After the cancellation the year before, it was a joy to have the Players Championship back in 2021 with fans in attendance. The galleries, which were smaller than usual, were treated to a rock-solid performance from Justin Thomas. Other players would have struggled to overcome the tough start that Thomas had to the tournament but he battled away over the first two days before taking it away from his rivals on the weekend.
A pair of 71s to start the week left Thomas in a tie for 22nd place. That was not a bad position to be in on a golf course that provides surprises year on year. The fightback began on Saturday with a round of 64, the lowest of the week by anybody in the field. That still left him three shots behind Lee Westwood going into the final day’s action. Thomas knew he’d need some help from Westwood if he was to win but resolved to apply as much pressure as possible with a continuation of his play from Saturday. That is exactly what he did, firing in a round of 68 while Westwood could only make an even-par 72 which saw him fall agonisingly short.
Thomas was emotional after the tournament. Not only was this a huge win but it came after a very challenging few months in which he lost his grandfather and was dropped by a sponsor for an ill-advised outburst on course. “I fought so hard today,” Thomas said. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen on TV in the past and I’m glad to be on this side of it.”
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy had a sneaky suspicion that the shift of the Players Championship back to March would be good for him. TPC Sawgrass is a slightly different prospect at that time of year and McIlroy’s belief that it would suit his game was proven correct in spectacular fashion as he added the Players Championship to his trophy haul.
McIlroy was not the only golfer to welcome the Players’ return to March. Jim Furyk, one of the last players to get a place in the field, put up an incredible fight in Ponte Vedra Beach. It was only some late brilliance from McIlroy that took the trophy out of Furyk’s hands. By McIlroy’s own admission, that late charge came after he glanced the leaderboard late in his round and saw how well Furyk, Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas were doing. Those three picked up the mantel from Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood who both squandered great positions with some disappointing golf on Sunday.
There was not a hint of disappointment about McIlroy as he spoke to the press after getting his hands on the newly designed Players Championship trophy. After a tough spell, McIlroy said he was aiming to build on this in the years to come. “I’ve started the second phase of my career and feel I can make the next 10 years even better than my first 10,” he said. “It means everything to be a Players champion, it’s the toughest tournament to win.”
2018: Webb Simpson
Of the top five players on the 2018 Players Championship leaderboard, only Webb Simpson failed to shoot -4 or better during the final round. Simpson actually went round in a one-over-par 73 on Sunday and yet he won the tournament by four shots.
It’s fair to say that Simpson took control of the Players Championship early on. He fired in a 66 on Thursday to take the first-round lead and was never likely to relinquish it after following up with a 63 on Friday. As if a five-shot lead on Saturday morning wasn’t enough, Simpson extended it to nine shots by the end of play, shooting 68 as most of the field struggled with the gusty wind. That gave him a very comfortable cushion which came in handy as he finally found life tough as the wind didn’t lay down on Sunday.
Winning the Players is always a big deal but it meant even more to Simpson as he lost his father Sam in November. He kept returning to his father’s lesson to “keep preserving” when things got tough on Sunday, a mantra that helped him see out the biggest win of his career. “Man, it means everything to me,” Simpson said afterwards. “I want to play well here, you know, like just like any other tournament, but this is a special one. This is our tournament.”