Playing at the back of the field after dominating the first three rounds, a bearded Webb Simpson knew by the roars of the huge galleries that Tiger Woods was on his tail, hunting him down.
But it mattered not. In, the end, the 32-year-old, 2012 US Open champion's closing 1-over 73 together with his seven-shot lead over the field, and the 10-shot cushion between himself and Woods at the start of the day was more than enough to enable him to cruise home on Sunday to a four-stroke, wire-to-wire victory in the season's unofficial 5th major, the Players Championship.
Yes, his closing 73, topped by a double bogey at the final hole, was a far cry from the 66, 63, and 68 he had shot in the first three rounds, but on unforgiving TPC Sawgrass, especially on Sunday when its teeth seemed to be sharper than ever, when less than a third of the field broke 70 and when Brooks Koepke's 63 was a rare exception, it did get the job done for him.
His closing 8-under 270 earned him his fifth victory on the PGA Tour and his first since late 2013.
South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, fellow major winner Jimmy Walker and his American compatriot, Xander Schauffele, the reigning Tour Champion, tied for second on 14-under after hoisting themselves up the leaderboard, each with one of the day's handful of 67s.
Australia's Jason Day, who said after his victory in the Wells Fargo Championship last week that he was looking to reclaim the World No 1 crown he lost to Dustin Johnson in February last year, closed with a 68 to tie for 5th with fellow former PGA Champion Jason Dufner.
Johnson did, in fact, lose his No 1 spot at Sawgrass on Sunday - but it was to No 2 Jason Thomas who posted a sparkling, final-round 66 to grab a share of 11th place alongside Koepke on a day when Johnson was to fade with a closing 72 that left him tied for 17th at 10-under.
Woods, looking better than he has in a good few years, had, in the meantime, briefly moved to within four shots of Simpson after posting six birdies on the first 12 holes. And the galleries were loving it.
“There was so much noise in front of us with Tiger,” Simpson told the media later. “His roars are definitely a different sound than everybody else’s but I knew he had started 10 or 11 shots back, so he would have to do something really special.”
Woods, in fact, went on to stumble some, dropping three shots coming down the closing stretch, two of them on Sawgrass's notorious island green at the 17th, and his closing 69 eventually saw him finish in the six-man logjam that tied for 11th on 11-under.
Talking about his victory afterwards, a delighted Simpson said: “Man, it means everything to me. I feel like it's my first win. I feel so similar to how I felt in Greensboro back in 2011.”
“To win a major championship and a few other Tour events and then go – I guess it's over four years - without a win, I never doubted myself, but at the same time, that's a long time.”
In his final round, Simpson shot birdies at the par-4 7th and 16th holes, but bogeyed the par-3 8th hole and double bogeyed the par-4 18th. Did he find the final round a grueling one?
“Yes, it was harder than I thought," he admitted. "You don’t feel relaxed until that ball finds land on 17. So once that happened, internally I was celebrating.”
Simpson dedicated his win to his parents — his late father Sam, who died last November, and his mother Debbie at home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Of his parents, Simpson said: “My dad got me started in this game. He kept me in other sports but he could tell that I was better in golf.
“I also felt unconditional love from my mum no matter how I played.”
LEADING FINAL SCORES
(Par 72 - USA players unless stated)
270 Webb Simpson 66 63 68 73
274 Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 68 66 73 67, Jimmy Walker 69 68 70 67, Xander Schauffele 68 68 71 67
275 Jason Day (AUS) 69 67 71 68, Jason Dufner 72 69 66 68
276 Harold Varner 71 67 70 68, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 69 71 68 68, Keegan Bradley 69 69 72 66, Danny Lee (NZL) 68 66 70 72
277 Brooks Koepka 70 70 74 63, Justin Thomas 73 70 68 66, Adam Scott (AUS) 69 68 72 68, Chesson Hadley 66 69 75 67, Ian Poulter (ENG) 70 69 69 69, Tiger Woods 72 71 65 69
278 Alex Noren (SWE) 66 69 77 66, Jamie Lovemark 76 67 68 67, Charles Howell 68 67 74 69, Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) 71 71 67 69, Matt Kuchar 66 71 71 70, Dustin Johnson 66 71 69 72.
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