The Players Stadium course at Ponte Vedra, Jacksonville, Florida, is famous mostly for the par three 17th hole with its infamous island green.
It has claimed a multitude of champions over the years and many more fell victim to its treachery over the last four days. However, golf’s greatest appreciated that the recently altered layout presented many even more pressing problems before they ever reached this iconic challenge as they coped with both the inherent difficulty of the layout and a capricious wind that blew golf balls into all kinds of trouble.
The players at the top of the leader board alternated wildly throughout the final round with overnight leaders J B Holmes and Louis Oosthuizen challenged at regular intervals by a number of golfers including the Korean Si Woo Kim, Kyle Stanley, Lucas Glover and Ian Poulter. Kim on 10 under led Poulter and Oosthuizen by two though 10 holes of the final round.
It developed into a very disappointing tournament for the Irish contingent with Shane Lowry gone after 36 holes and Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell simply making up the numbers through the weekend.
From as early as Thursday evening when Rory McIlroy reported further back trouble after an indifferent opening round of 73, it was clear that he would not be a factor where the leaderboard was concerned.
He is planning an MRI scan today to see if he will need another few weeks on the sidelines.
Rory followed up with two 71s to dip one under after 54, still with an outside chance of a big finish, but that was never on the cards.
Two birdies on the way out were cancelled out by two bogeys, another shot went at the long 11th and a birdie at the 16th (where his playing partner Jason Day put two balls in the water on the way to an eight) was offset by a double bogey at the last making for a round of 75 and a two over aggregate of 290.
Graeme McDowell’s difficulties on the golf course show no signs of abating, quite the opposite in fact.
McDowell has frequently shown promise over the opening two or even three rounds in several tournaments over the past twelve months or so but finishing off the job has proved beyond him. His last tournament win on the PGA Tour came in the Mayakobo event in Mexico in 2015 and in Europe he must go back to the French Open in 2014.
A share of 14th in the recent Valspar and Honda tournaments and 18th in the Wells Fargo the previous week gave hope of even better things at Sawgrass and opening rounds of 71 and 72 left him in reasonable touch with the leaders. However, a 74 on Saturday put an end to any aspirations of a top 10 finish and his downward path continued over the first nine yesterday.
G-Mac bogeyed four of the next six to reach the turn in 40. And there was even worse to come as he turned for home with a double bogey 6 at the 10th followed by another six at the long 11th. He went on to sign for a round of 80 and nine over and tied for last with David Hearn and former winner Martin Kaymer of Germany.
World number one and US Open champion Dustin Johnson made an impressive return to competitive action after a short rest following further early season brilliance. While he never struck his best form, he improved as the week went on and yesterday’s 68 saw him finish two under and inside the top 20.
Meanwhile England’s Matt Wallace held off a two-pronged assault on the final day to claim his first European Tour title with a superb wire-to-wire victory in the Open de Portugal.
Wallace held a five-shot lead at the halfway stage and was still three ahead starting the final round, but saw his advantage reduced to a single shot, first by German Sebastian Heisele and then American Julian Suri.
However, the 27-year-old Englishman held his nerve to card four vital birdies in a closing 69, his third bogey-free round of the week at Morgado Golf Resort giving him a winning total of 21 under par.
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