PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Rory McIlroy won The Players Championship, outdueling Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk and a host of others on a spectacular and blustery Sunday at TPC Sawgrass.
McIlroy took the lead for good on the par-5 16th, tapping in for birdie and then getting pars on Nos. 17 and 18 to finish at 16-under on a windy and drizzly final round at the Stadium Course.
It was quite a change for McIlroy, another step in his growth process. He won for the first time in nearly a year (the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 18, 2018 was his last) and did it navigating a tricky Sunday course that thinned out a cluster of contenders down the stretch.
"I came here as a 19-year-old in 2009, missing the cut, getting kicked out of bars in Jax Beach for being under age, so I've come a long way in those 10 years," he said.
It wasn't easy. And late Sunday, The Players was up for grabs.
When co-leader Jon Rahm made the turn at 14-under and tied with Furyk, a staggering 21 golfers were within four shots of the lead.
Eddie Pepperell had a sizzling back nine to get to 14-under, including a birdie putt of 49 feet, 7 inches on No. 17. The longest putt in tournament history on that hole, a 69-foot, 7-inch bomb by Jhonattan Vegas, came right after and got him to 14-under.
But it was Furyk and McIlroy, consistent throughout the day, who separated themselves from the pack.
McIlroy played well in the finishing gauntlet, including the tricky 18th. His approach was aggressive, but he stuck it and left a two-putt for the victory, the 15th PGA Tour win in his career. The victory, which earned him $2.25 million, vaulted McIlroy from 11th to first in the FedEx Cup standings.
"... I birdied 16, kept telling myself on the way to the 17th tee, just make three more good swings. That's all you need to do, make a good swing in here, two good swings at the last, and this thing is yours," he said.
"And to step up and make those three good swings, it's very satisfying knowing that it's in there when it needs to be. Very proud, very honored to be able to call myself a Players champion, a tournament I haven't won before."
That was enough to put a runner-up bow on the feel-good story of Furyk, who birdied 16 and 18 to tie McIlroy at 15-under.
Furyk, 48, barely qualified for The Players, gaining entry thanks to a ninth-place finish at the Honda Classic and wound up as the final golfer in the field. He wound up battling until the finish, with an agonizing lip-out putt on No. 17 his last real shot at getting to 16-under.
"It's fun to be home. It's fun to be in front of the home crowd," Furyk said. "I've got my family here, a lot of friends. I haven't been healthy in a lot of years. I haven't put myself in the heat with really a good opportunity to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it. I missed the nerves, I missed the excitement, the cheers, and I think the emotion you saw on 18 was just I was proud of the way I played."
Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas finished tied for third at 14-under, both shooting 6-under 66s on Sunday.
Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.