The PGA Tour experienced a whirlwind of a week at TPC Sawgrass, as the first reserved day was needed to complete this year’s Players Championship.
Cameron Smith produced the performance of his life during the final round, which had to be completed on Monday evening due to torrential weather conditions.
Sawgrass’ Stuttering Opening
On, off, on, off. That appeared to be the theme at the Stadium Course during the first and second day of the tournament, with the afternoon-morning group being unjustly penalized as a consequence.
Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge shared the lead after the opening 18 holes, but the surprise inclusion within the top three was Anirban Lahiri – the world’s 322nd ranked golfer.
Golfers such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa had not even completed their front nine before play was suspended for the day on Thursday.
A particular highlight, however, was seeing Ian Poulter hit a wonderful shot into the 17th green and sprint to the island to ensure he could complete his round for the day.
Amazingly, Poulter would make birdie on the iconic par-3 17th before producing an excellent chip to save par on his final hole of the day.
Friday didn’t bring much joy itself, with the weather once again getting the better of the day.
There was limited play throughout but it wasn’t until the Saturday – where the third round should have taken place – that saw the completion of the first rounds.
Erik Van Rooyen, who is enjoying an elongated period of form, dominated the second round scoring, carding 67 before faltering to the Sawgrass sting.
Bubba Watson, who would finish T68, closed his second outing with 68 whilst Paul Casey supported his promising 70 with a 69.
Tightly Bunched Leaderboard
Through several amazing performances during the third and penultimate round, a plethora of talent propelled themselves into the race for the championship.
Sebastian Munoz produced the lowest score of the week at the time, finishing with a riveting 65 that would ensure his presence in the final few groups.
Lahiri, who was looking to respond positively from his disappointing 73 during the previous round, enhanced his chances dramatically after a wonderful 67 – that included seven birdies and just two bogeys.
The majority of players, at least those in contention, featured in both their third and fourth rounds during the Monday.
It was actually quite remarkable that a Monday finish was possible, let alone executed, which would undoubtedly protect the field quality going into the Valspar Championship.
The Cameron Smith Show
The fourth round saw typical scoring, with Dustin Johnson recording the lowest score of the week and tying the course record with an expertly crafted 63 – that included an eagle on the 9th and his 18th hole of the day.
With so many players within reach of one another, the winner of this prestigious competition was difficult to determine.
Smith started in unbelievable fashion, carding five birdies throughout his opening six holes before stringing three bogeys together to complete his front nine.
Lahiri made double-bogey on the 8th after a snap-hook off the tee forced him to take a drop to ensure a clear line into the green was achievable.
He responded brilliantly, however, birdieing the par-5 9th and firmly placing himself into contention for his first PGA Tour victory of his career.
Casey, also looking to record the biggest win of his career, remained patient as he painfully saw playing partner Smith produce birdie after birdie.
He went out in 35 after a birdie-bogey-birdie finish to his front nine, before carding early birdies on both 11 and 12.
Keegan Bradley had a colorful scorecard of his own, which included eight birdies, two bogeys and one regretful double-bogey on the punishing 18th.
That errant decision, that resulted in his second shot creeping into the water, cost him more than $700,000 in prize money due to the lucrative purse on offer.
The big moment of the round took place on the par-5 16th, typically the last chance for the players to gain a stroke before being faced with the utmost of intimidating finishes.
After snap-hooking his drive into the left trees, Smith looked to be in real trouble as Casey powered his tee shot down the center of the fairway.
The Australian intelligently chipped out of the woods to ensure a full shot into the green, but as Casey approached his resting ball, it had nestled into a pitch mark which forced his hand – he had to lay up.
His second shot was far below the standard that he set all week and he could not take advantage of Smith’s errant drive as the pair carded par before moving on.
Smith hit an outrageously brave shot into the 17th green that left him a few feet for birdie – which he would make – as Casey could only secure par again.
The 18th at Sawgrass is a work of art: if you are to conquer in this tournament, you will be forced to earn it with this grand finale.
After all the ecstasy and agony that Smith had to endure, there was one final moment where his resilience would be tested to the extreme.
After a poor tee shot, he needed to chip himself back into position onto a fairway that slopes severely from right-to-left.
His second shot slowly trickled into the water – offering Lahiri a lifeline in the group behind – where he would be hitting his fourth shot and looking to get up-and-down for bogey.
At this stage, the lead was as comprehensive as three strokes, but the Indian had just smoked his drive and split the fairway in two.
Smith subsequently produced the pitch of his life and left himself two-feet for bogey, which he confidently stroked into the middle of the cup.
Lahiri, looking for a birdie to force a playoff and extend what had been an exhilarating week in the uncharacteristic Floridian weather, left his approach short and the disappointment in his face was evident.
He analysed the chip shot carefully, but narrowly missed the hole and rolled home his par putt to finish runner-up – earning more than $2 million in the process.
The Valspar Championship is next for the PGA Tour and it will be the final event of the Floridian swing.
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