Drought stopper: Webb Simpson cruises to Players Championship victory for fifth career PGA Tour win

Drought stopper: Webb Simpson cruises to Players Championship victory for fifth career PGA Tour win

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Staring down his approach at the challenging finishing hole at TPC Sawgrass, Webb Simpson took an aggressive line, hitting his iron directly over the flag, off the green and into the water long and left. It didn’t matter.

Simpson wasn’t spectacular on Sunday. He didn’t need to be. But he was more than good enough to notch a Players Championship victory going away from the field. A final round of one-over 73 left him at 18-under 268, four shots clear of runners-up Charl Schwartzel, Xander Schauffele and Jimmy Walker.

Simpson entered the final round with a seven-shot lead over the field, a 54-hole margin that has never been surrendered in PGA Tour history. Several low morning scores (highlighted by a 63 from Brooks Koepka) showed that the course would be yielding plenty of red numbers.

As the lead groups teed off in the afternoon, challengers rose to meet Simpson. Playing partner Danny Lee birdied No. 2 and then hit his tee shot at the par-3 3rd inside a foot to get within five shots of the lead, but Simpson answered with a neat sand save from the left bunker. Simpson stayed steady with pars at the first six holes before receiving a bonus birdie when a 33-footer dropped at No. 7.

He’d give that shot back after lipping out for par at No. 8, but Simpson still held a wide advantage as he made the turn after a front-nine 36. Roars echoed ahead of Simpson as Tiger Woods made birdies at 11 and 12 to get to 14 under and Simpson’s par putt again shot around the lip and out at No. 10. Suddenly his advantage was just four shots over a group that included Woods and Lee.

But Webb answered the bell as he had all week, responding with two solid shots at the reachable par-5 11th to set up a four-footer for birdie. He hit the next four greens but was content to two-putt for par before easily handling the par-5 16th, where a hybrid approach to the edge of the green set up an 11-foot putt that he sent cooly into the back of the hole.

There was only one test remaining: hit it on dry land at the island-green par-3 17th. Simpson wisely fired away from the flag, and his wedge settled safely on the fat of the green. No matter that his first putt ran past the hole and to the fringe beyond — Simpson poured that in for par.

The double bogey at No. 18 reduced the final margin of victory but did little to change the story of the day: that Webb Simpson, winner for the first time since 2013, had earned a commanding victory over a field of the best golfers in the world.

Afterward, Simpson talked about how much the Mother’s Day victory meant after losing his father last November. “I thought about him all day,” Simpson said. “I think it’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom.”

At the trophy ceremony beside the 18th green, Simpson also cited the support of his wife Dowd in getting back to the winner’s circle after 107 starts. “We’ve spent the last few years, many dinners with me in tears being frustrated about my golf game, and she was right there the whole time just supporting me, encouraging me to work hard.”

The win is the 5th of Simpson’s career and the biggest since the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic.