PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Justin Thomas found the right time for a near-perfect performance to put a rocky start to the year behind him, rebounding from three shots behind with a bold game to close at 68 of 4-under par and win the Players Championship on Sunday.
He won for the seventh year in a row, the fourteenth title of his career, and became the fourth player to win a major tournament, The Players Championship, FedEx Cup and World Golf Championship.
Thomas considered him as good as he has ever played tee-to-green, and needed him to beat Lee Westwood, an unlucky runner-up for the second week in a row. Westwood birdied the final hole for a 72 to finish a shot behind TPC Sawgrass.
In January, Thomas uttered an anti-gay slur under his breath after missing a short putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii. That led to one corporate sponsor leaving him and another giving him a public reprimand. The only time he had a chance to win, he learned that his grandfather died before the final round of the Phoenix Open.
“It’s been a horrible couple of months. Things have happened to me in my life that I never thought would happen,” Thomas said. “Losing Grandpa was terrible, and having to play a round of golf dealing with it, and then, on top of that, not playing well, it just was a lot, and it took a lot of mental effort.
“This week was huge to win a great championship like this again in front of the fans, which is unbelievable. It tested me mentally, physically and emotionally, and I am so proud of myself that I did it.”
Like most Sundays at this championship, it was wilder than ever.
Thomas was four shots behind when he came off the green at par-3 eighth with a three-put bogey. Four holes later, he came off the 12th green with a two-shot lead.
He hit a 5-iron at 20 feet to set up a two-putt birdie at the ninth par 5. He faced a difficult pin at No. 10 for a 6-foot birdie. He drilled a 4 iron at 20 feet for an eagle at No. 11 for his first lead of the week, culminating the race with a nifty shot from behind the green at 12 par 4 achievable for birdie.
Westwood, runner-up last week behind Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill, was tied for the lead on Sunday until he couldn’t match Thomas, who was playing in the front group, at par 5 16.
Thomas hit a low shot and threw a strong, low shot that ran about 40 yards and hit a 5-stick in 50 feet, which was delayed for a two-putt birdie. Westwood’s 3-iron cut through a tree and fell to the sand, and that quirky 65-yard shot went into another bunker and forced him to fight for par.
“When you’re in contention, you’d like to win every tournament you’re playing in,” Westwood said after a 72. “But I didn’t have my game today.”
He birdied 18 to finish only second. DeChambeau (71) and Brian Harman (69) were another shot from behind.
Thomas finished 14 under 274. He was off the court after nine holes on Friday, did it with two shots to spare, and then tied the Players’ Championship record with a weekend of 12 under 132.
Thomas still had one more chance before he was free. He took the water framing the left side of 18th fairway, the ball moved from right to left and bounced directly off the crown of the first cut, safely on the fairway. It was only when he saw him on the ground that Thomas twirled his club, covered his face with his cap, and wiped his forehead.
“I fought so hard today,” Thomas said. “It’s probably one of the best rounds of my life from tee to green. I’ve seen some crazy things on TV in the past, and I’m glad I’m on this side.”
All the “crazy things” came early.
DeChambeau outpointed a hybrid on the fourth par 4 hole that traveled just 140 yards until it sank into the water.
“Dude! I don’t know what happened!” He told his caddy. “I’ve never done that before.”
From 237 yards on a front tee to a water-protected green, he hit a cut with a 4-iron that landed about 40 yards to the right of the green.
“Oh my God! What’s going on?” DeChambeau said.
He double bogeyed and scratched the rest of the way to stay in the game. He still had a chance with an eagle on the 16th hole to get close to two, but when Thomas made par at the 17th, his chances were about to end.
Westwood threw his tee shot into the water on the fourth hole and had to hit an 8-foot shot to save the bogey. He approached the pine straw that cut two branches and found water in the second par 5 hole to create a ghost. But he was never far from the lead, and Westwood regained some of the lead with an 8-foot birdie putt at 14.
His hopes ended with a three-put bogey on par 3 of 17.
Thomas made $ 2.7 million from the $ 15 million purse. He said he was in a good place when he started and that he felt even better when he posed with the trophy.
Associated Press contributed to this report.