Tiger Woods claimed his 78th PGA Tour title and the richest prize in golf as Sergio Garcia’s hopes of a second Players Championship fell victim to the infamous 17th hole at Sawgrass.
After two days in which their personal animosity was made a matter of public record, Woods and Garcia found themselves tied for the lead with two holes to play and the winner’s cheque of £1.1million in the balance.
But after Woods made a safe par on the 17th, Garcia dumped two balls into the water short of the island green to end his hopes with a quadruple-bogey seven.
Playing partner David Lingmerth somehow ignored all the drama to hit his own tee shot to seven feet, but the Swedish rookie missed the birdie putt that would have taken him into a share of the lead and also bogeyed the last trying to force a play-off.
That meant Woods’ closing 70 and 13-under-par total of 275 was good enough for a two-shot win over Lingmerth, Jeff Maggert and Kevin Streelman, the 37-year-old now just four wins away from equalling the record 82 PGA Tour victories of Sam Snead.
It was also his fourth win in his last five events – he was fourth in the Masters last month – and a second Players Championship title 12 years after his first.
Garcia found more water on the 18th for a double-bogey six and a closing 76 to finish six shots behind.
Woods went into the final round tied for the lead with Garcia and Lingmerth and despite only one of his previous 77 professional victories having come at Sawgrass, he reached the turn with a two-shot lead.
Making his 300th career start on the PGA Tour – he also won on his 100th and 200th starts – Woods birdied the second and fourth to move into the outright lead and, after a bogey on the sixth when his approach hit a tree short of the green, bounced back with a birdie from 15ft on the seventh.
After the 49-year-old Maggert closed to within a shot, Woods restored his two-shot lead with a birdie on the 12th and looked in cruise control, only to hook his tee shot on the 14th into the water and run up a double-bogey six.
It was difficult to tell where Woods should drop the ball – bringing back memories of his two-shot penalty at the Masters – and the conjecture forced the PGA Tour rules committee to clarify the situation.
Their statement read: “Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods’ ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow competitor (Casey Wittenberg).
“If that point later proves to be a wrong point (through television or other means), the player is not penalised by Rule 26-1 given the fact that a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect (Decision 26-1/17).”
Either way, birdies from Lingmerth and Garcia on the 13th while this was happening meant there was suddenly a four-way tie for the lead, but Maggert showed what was in store for Garcia when his hopes came to a watery end on the 17th.
Woods edged in front with a birdie on the 16th that was matched by Garcia in the group behind, only for hopes of a thrilling finish to be dashed on the next.
``It was tough,'' Woods told NBC. ``I was in control of the tournament and got to the 14th tee and just absolutely hit the worst shot I could possibly hit and then made double there.
“I stayed really patient, I kept telling myself that’s the only bad swing I’ve made all day and there’s no reason why I can’t still win the tournament.
“The conditions got a little tricky, I left myself a lot of double-breaking putts and had a hard time reading them. (But) I figured I am not the only one having this kind of difficulty.”
A play-off between Woods and Garcia had been eagerly anticipated given what had gone on between them when paired together in a third round played over two days due to bad weather.
It took less than two holes for tensions to come to the surface with Garcia feeling he was put off on his approach shot to the second by crowd noise caused by Woods preparing for his own shot from the trees.
Woods insisted he had been told by a marshal that Garcia had already played before pulling a fairway wood from his bag, with the fans cheering the indication that the world number one would attempt to go for the green on the par five.
Told about Garcia’s comments, Woods said it was “not real surprising he’s complaining about something”. And in response to that, Garcia said: “That’s fine. At least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing. He can do whatever he wants.”
Speaking after the third round was completed on Sunday morning, Garcia was happy to confirm what had been suspected for many years.
“He’s not my favourite guy to play with,” the Spaniard said. “He’s not the nicest guy on Tour. So it will be good for both us not to play together again (today).
“We don’t like each other. It doesn’t take a rocket engineer to figure that out. He is who he is. I am who I am. It’s best we’re not playing together again.”