Rory McIlroy simply played his way back to the top.
After finishing sixth or better in his last five starts without winning, McIlroy posted a 2-under-par 70 with four birdies on the back nine to claim a one-stroke victory over 48-year-old Jim Furyk in The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass https://tpc.com/sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
And the man from Holywood, Northern Ireland, did it on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I liked that it was tough today,” said McIlroy, who claimed his 24th pro victory, including 15 on the PGA Tour, but the first in almost exactly a year. “I made a double bogey on the fourth hole, but I stayed as patient as I could. Every time I looked at the leaderboard I was glad to see I hadn’t fallen three or four strokes behind, and then I played a great back nine.
“It was a difficult day. Guys who started early were posting scores of 66 and 67, showing the depth of the field. This is the deepest field we have all year. I’m just thankful it was my time this week. I waited my turn.
“ … This is maybe the hardest tournament to win on one of the toughest courses.”
The sixth-ranked McIlroy, 29, who will make his fifth bid to complete the Career Grand Slam at the Masters next month, took the lead for good with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes en route to a 72-hole score of 16-under 272.
Furyk, virtually playing in his backyard, birdied two of the last three holes to shoot 67 and was the leader in the clubhouse until McIlroy finished it off.
“I told myself I wasn’t even supposed to be here and that freed me up,” said Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who didn’t make the players field until he tied for ninth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.
“I felt great about my game, played well and stayed loose. I’m excited about the way I played the last few holes and that’s the beauty of the Players. I left it all out there and kept the pedal down all the way to the finish.”
Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela sank a 70-foot birdie putt on the island green at the 17th hole to shoot 66 and finished two shots back in a tie for third with Eddie Pepperell of England, who made his own birdie on No. 17 from 50 feet in another 66.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson closed with a 69 to wind up three down in a tie for fifth with Brandt Snedeker, who also had a 69, and Tommy Fleetwood, who still had a chance until he hit his tee shot into the water at No. 17 and finished at 73.
Second-ranked Justin Rose of England shot 68 and was one more back in a tie for eighth with Jason Day of Australia, the 2016 Players champion, who had a 72, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who wound up at 67, and Brian Harman, who came in with a 70.
Tenth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, the 54-hole leader, stumbled to a 76 and tied for 12th, defending champion Webb Simpson tied for 16th after a 68, fifth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis tied for 20th after a 71 and two-time Players champion Tiger Woods closed with a 69 to tie for 30th.
Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas tied for 35th following a 70, ninth-ranked Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, the 2015 Players champion, struggled to a 76 to tie for 47th, and third-ranked Brooks Koepka totaled 70 finish in a tie for 56th that included seventh-ranked Francesco Molinari of Italy, who finished with a 72 a week after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
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