Min Woo Lee started the final round of The Players just two shots behind leader and eventual winner, world No.1 Scottie Scheffler.
But facing his biggest challenge in his short career – playing in the final group in his Players debut – Lee buckled under pressure, carding a final-round four-over 76 to sink from outright second to seven-way tie for sixth, nine shots behind Scheffler.
The seven players in the tie for sixth also included fellow Aussie Cameron Davis, who also slipped down the leaderboard after carding a two-over final round of 74.
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Former champion Jason Day finished two shots further back in a tie for 19th.
After making birdie on the first, Lee was tied for the lead when he hit his first speed bump on the par-4 fourth. He found deep rough with his tee shot, and after laying up with his second, could only watch on as his third shot spun back into the creek protecting the green.
He walked off with a triple-bogey seven.
He looked to be steadying the ship when he got to the par-5 11th, but hooked his tee shot deep into the pine needles that surround the famed TPC Sawgrass course.
It took him three shots to get out. He walked off the green with double bogey, his charge all but done.
“It happened really quick. It’s one of those things where it’s Sunday and you just make a couple bad decisions and it all kind of falls down,” he said after play.
“I tried to get it back, but I just didn’t have my approach game today and that’s something I’ve got to work on. But, yeah, again, happy with the week.”
Lee did manage one final round highlight – a brilliant birdie on the Island Green 17th.
Lee’s playing partner, champion Scheffler ran off five straight birdies in the middle of his round, built a six-shot lead and left all the drama to everyone else on his way to a 3-under 69 to win the richest prize on the PGA Tour by five shots.
The victory was worth nearly $7 million and sent Scheffler back to the top of the world rankings for the second time this year. He now has six victories in his last 27 starts on the PGA Tour, including the four wins he had last year culminated by his Masters title.
When he poured in a six metre par putt on the final hole, Scheffler had the largest margin of victory in The Players since Stephen Ames won by six in 2006.
“I got hot in the middle of the round and tried to put things away as quickly as I can,” Scheffler said. “Gosh, it’s fun.”
Earlier in the day, Tyrrell Hatton birdied his last five holes for a 65, finishing when Scheffler was making the turn. Viktor Hovland (68) and Tom Hoge (70) were seven shots behind in a tie for third, each making about $2.25 million from the roughly $38 million purse.
Scheffler, who finished at 17-under 271, became only the third player to win at the TPC Sawgrass with all four rounds in the 60s.
His final-round birdie-fest started when Scheffler chipped in from the collar of a bunker on the par-3 eighth, and he closed out the front nine with an aggressive play on the par-5 ninth that set up a chip-and-a-putt birdie.
By now the wind was gusting close to 50km/h, which only adds to the trouble on this course. Scheffler stayed aggressive, though, holing a 5.5m birdie on the 10th, two-putting from more than 20m on the par-5 11th and taking on the reachable par-4 12th with a 3-wood to pin high just right of the green. That set up his fifth straight birdie, and a six-shot lead.
The biggest meltdown belonged to PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery, who was tied for fourth until a bogey on the 15th, a double bogey on the 16th (without hitting in the water) and then two balls in the water on the 17th – from the tee and then a chip that rolled off the front of the island – for a quintuple-bogey seven.
He dropped 40 spots on the leaderboard, and at No.55 in the world, that kept him from cracking the top 50 in the rankings and likely securing a spot in the Masters.
This was Scheffler’s sixth win in the last 13 months, all of them against some of the strongest fields in golf.
The $7 million win has pushed his season total to over $17 million, and the first major is still a month away. He has won some $36 million in the last two seasons.
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