South African Tim Clark stormed home with a brilliant final round to win the $9,5-million Players Championship on Sunday.
Clark had never won on the US PGA Tour, but he ended his drought in style when he charged to a one-stroke victory over Australian Robert Allenby on Sunday.
The diminutive 34-year-old from Durban tamed difficult conditions as he came from three strokes behind in the final round.
He made his move swiftly and decisively with five birdies in six holes mid-round, before holding on down the dangerous closing stretch with six successive pars to post a bogey-free five-under-par 67, the day’s best score at the Sawgrass TPC.
His stellar display stole the show after world number one Tiger Woods created an early sensation — even though he wasn’t in contention — when he withdrew complaining of neck pain.
Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson’s bid to seize Woods’ world number one ranking fizzled.
Woods said his neck has been bothering him since before the Masters and he fears the injury could be a bulging disk.
“I’ve been playing through it,” he said. “I can’t play through it anymore.”
Mickelson, who could have taken over the number one spot with a win and a finish out of the top-five for Woods, started five adrift and bogeyed three of his first six holes en route to a 74 and a tie for 17th.
Clark, meanwhile, went from strength to strength.
After sinking a pressure-packed eight-footer at the last, Clark signed for a 16-under 272 total, before waiting to see whether anyone could catch him.
Allenby came closest. He made a tap-in birdie at the par-five 16th but needed to pick up one more shot to force a play-off.
An 11-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th somehow stopped millimeters short, leaving Allenby in need of a birdie at the last.
It wasn’t to be, and Clark finally had won one of golf’s biggest events.
“I played a great round yesterday and hoped that I’d have the same sort of confidence and trust in what I was doing today, and I was able to do that,” said Clark, who collected $1,71-million.
“The last two days is by far the best I’ve ever putted. Another huge thing was the way I read the greens. I felt like every read was spot-on. I’ve never felt like that on the greens, ever.”
Even though Clark had won often in other parts of the world, most recently the 2008 Australian Open, he needed a US PGA Tour victory for validation.
“Had I not won and come to the end of my PGA Tour career, there would have been issues. In the past I’ve been thinking about winning way too much and putting to much pressure on it, whereas today I just tried to hit every shot as good as I could and didn’t worry about what other guys were doing and what I was scoring.”
Runner-up Allenby held his head high after shooting 70 on rock hard greens that several players said were dead.
“I’m very happy with the shots I executed down the stretch,” he said. “They were some of the toughest conditions I’ve ever faced in a final round. It’s hard to describe how tricky those greens were.”
“American Lucas Glover (70) was third on 14-under, while third round leader Lee Westwood (74) faded late to fall into a tie for fourth on 12-under.
Westwood still had a chance at the 16th green, but he missed a 10-foot birdie putt and when his tee shot at the 17th came up short in the water, his goose was cooked.
“Not making birdie on 16 was pivotal,” said the Englishman, who also led into the final round at last month’s Masters, before finishing second to Mickelson.
“I didn’t really feel I played that great all week and was quite proud to be in the lead going into the last day.
“When the course was soft the first couple of days I wasn’t in control but I could just about get away with it.
“As the course toughened up, you needed to hit more fairways, have more control of the ball, and I just didn’t have that today … I just didn’t play well over the weekend.” — AFP