Thomas outduels Westwood to capture Players Championship

MIAMI (AFP) – Third-ranked Justin Thomas outdueled Lee Westwood down the stretch on Sunday to capture the Players Championship, taking his 14th United States (US) PGA 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-5 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.”

Thomas, 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,” Thomas said. “I was fortunate to hit it well enough that a lot of my birdies were low stress.”

Justin Thomas of the United States putts on the 17th green during the final round of The Players Championship. PHOTO: AFP

Westwood, 47, closed with a 15-foot birdie putt to finish second for the second consecutive week with US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and fellow American Brian Harman sharing third on 276.

“I didn’t feel like my legs were working properly. Lethargic really. I paid the penalty for it,” Westwood 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,” Thomas said. “I’m really proud of how well I played.”

Thomas joined Tiger Woods, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus as the only players with 14 PGA wins before age 28 and was excited to do it before a limited number of spectators.

“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.”

Thomas battled controversy earlier this year, apologising for using a slur that TV microphones picked up at January’s Tournament of Champions, one that cost him a Ralph Lauren sponsorship. But he praised his team of friends and family for helping him navigate tough times.

“When you’re in a tough place mentally or don’t feel as great, to have a support system like that is huge,” he said.

Thomas said he had gotten some advice from 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, still recovering from injuries received in a car crash, saying, “I was replaying a lot of what he told me in my head.”