by Jeff Skinner
The Players Championship lived up to expectations as David Toms and K.J. Choi provided the theater at a course built for just that. It came down to a playoff that started and ended at one of the most exciting holes in golf as Choi’s par gave him the title after Toms three putted for bogey. The controversial seventeenth at TPC Sawgrass was the critical hole for Choi who earned his eighth PGA Tour victory.
David Toms was clinging to a lead most of the final round as many of the contenders fell off the pace as Sawgrass appeared to be taking revenge on some of the leaders. When play ended on Saturday mid-way through the third round, Graeme McDowell and Nick Watney shared the lead. After they finished their third round early on Sunday, Watney stumbled through the final holes finishing at four over par for the last six holes and a closing back nine of 40. He would never recover. McDowell double bogeyed the last hole in the third round and his fate was sealed with three bogeys in a four hole span on the front nine of the fourth round. His meltdown continued as he carded a 41 on the back nine for a disastrous 79. Steve Stricker was one stroke off the lead when the sun went down on Saturday. He also dropped out of contention early Sunday when he bogeyed three of his final six holes in the third round.
Toms played steady golf and finished his third round without much damage and his 71 left him tied with Choi for the lead at -11. Choi’s 67 in the third moved him from two off the lead on Saturday into the last grouping with Toms and McDowell.
Toms looked to have taken control with three birdies over the first six holes of the fourth round but trouble awaited him on the back nine. Holding a one stroke lead at the sixteenth hole, Toms three wood approach fell short into the water and opened the door for Choi. Toms salvaged a bogey and he and Choi went to the island green seventeenth tied for the lead.
Choi took the lead when he sunk his birdie putt on seventeen and Toms could only manage par. But a determined Toms drove it perfectly on eighteen only to find his ball in a divot. He then hit one of his best shots of The Players as he dug it out of the divot and put it eighteen feet from the cup. He forced the playoff with a stirring birdie putt that caused the normally reserved Toms to give a double fist pump celebration. Choi’s par sent them back to seventeen for the playoff.
It appeared that the playoff would go another hole as both Toms and Choi snuggled their first putts to within four feet. But Toms’ 3 ½ foot par putt slid by the edge of the cup and all Choi needed to do was drop his 3 footer for the biggest win of his career.
Choi was thankful and gracious afterward as he said Toms and McDowell helped him win. “I’m just very thankful to the Lord. It’s Him that allowed me to win this tournament. The fan support was tremendous out there. I think the key thing for me today was to because it was such a long day, to maintain my body and rhythm, to get enough rest in between, and stay patient and not give up.
I prayed really hard all through the day, and I think that’s why God was able to give me this great gift.
I also want to thank my playing partners, David Toms and Graeme McDowell. Both of them, they really helped me play the way I did, like a good friend would, like a good younger brother would. They were just fantastic playing partners, and I really want to they kept me in rhythm, they kept me focused and I really want to thank them for their attitude.”