Round 4 review: THE PLAYERS Championship
March 17, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy Round 4 highlights from THE PLAYERS
A quick look at Sunday’s final round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
At one point in Sunday’s final round the list of potential champions was longer than a Rory McIlroy drive … the 2019 PLAYERS Championship was certainly one of the most dramatic in the events history.
While McIlroy eventually had the relatively “easy” task of two-putting from 12 feet to win, it came after an afternoon where multiple challengers put their hands up as serious contenders.
From overnight leader Jon Rahm and his fellow final group member Tommy Fleetwood.
To upstarts Ollie Schniederjans and Abraham Ancer and familiar names like Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker.
To 48-year-old Jim Furyk – who wound back the clock with an incredible performance – and to a pair of headline seekers in Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas who will forever be inked in PLAYERS history after heroics at 17.
All of them, and more, contributed to a blockbuster finish. One that won’t soon be forgotten.
In fact it was the cacophony reverberating around TPC Sawgrass that was the hardest for McIlroy to deal with.
Particularly given he’d had five top-6 finishes in 2019 without winning leading into this week.
“The toughest part is seeing yourself up there, whatever score you're on, and seeing 10 or 11 guys with a chance,” the now 15-time PGA TOUR winner said.
“But there's been a few times where I've been in positions like that, and I've taken the tournament by the scruff of the neck.”
What McIlroy saw throughout the day was enough to make anyone’s head spin.
First it was the likes of Mexico’s Ancer and young American Schniederjans making moves. Three birdies for Ollie and two for Abraham in the opening six holes had them thrust into the spotlight.
The American seemingly dropped out of it with a double bogey on the 10th. Ancer was gone with bogeys on 12 and 13.
Attention turned to Matsuyama next. Previously out of sight an eagle on the par-5 16th introduced the Japanese star to the mix.
When he failed to birdie either of the final two holes he had the clubhouse lead at 12 under, but you figured it wouldn’t be enough.
And you knew it wouldn’t be when England’s Pepperell got red hot. A closing 5-under 31, including an incredible double breaking 49-foot birdie on 17, took the mark to 14 under.
Just as the echoes of Pepperell’s out of this world putt had subsided around TPC Sawgrass, Vegas stepped up and made one from 70-feet on the Island Green. It was the longest ever made in the ShotLink era (since 2003).
Now the Venezuelan was the man. Especially after his approach to the 18th green stopped at six feet.
But he failed to roll it in, settling for a tie with Pepperell.
Johnson and Snedeker were making small moves at this point, but their challenge took a back seat to 48-year-old Furyk – his exploits ahead of them would force their hands and they would come up short.
The local favorite Furyk had been hanging around all day, including hitting the lead when he was four under on his round through 11 holes.
But he was almost dismissed when he bogeyed the 15th hole … frayed nerves they said.
Birdie on 16 returned the old guy to center stage. Nerves? What nerves. He took dead aim at 17 and hit it to 14-feet. The birdie putt looked in the whole way but somehow stayed out.
Never mind that though. Furyk took a deadly aggressive line off the 18th tee and then stiffed his approach to near tap in range. 15-under. Take that.
Overnight leader Rahm had dropped three shots in four holes to give up the lead early on, but he bounced back with two birdies before the turn to stay in the mix.
Despite a mental error on the 11th the Spaniard’s birdie on the 13th hole kept him alive. But he played the final four holes 3 over par, including a water ball on the par-3 17th.
Fleetwood three-putted the opening hole and then got stuck on the treadmill going nowhere through the turn. A water ball on the par-5 11th and a bogey on the 15th seemingly took out the Englishman.
That was until a stunning second shot on the par-5 16th set up an eagle.
But as quick as he was back, he was gone, as his tee ball on the 17th bounced odd the railroad ties and into the drink.
And so it left McIlroy.
“I thought back to Crooked Stick in 2012, BMW Championship there,” he said of the chaos all around.
“There was a lot of guys up around the lead, and I made a really good run on the back nine, was able to pull that off. I don't know why it popped into my head, but I guess all these experiences are so helpful to draw on.
“The hardest thing was just getting yourself to the point mentally where you say, well, why not me; this is my tournament, I'm going to finish it off.”
Finish it off he did. Birdie on 15. Birdie on 16 (almost eagle). And a couple clutch pars on the closing holes, including a ripping drive down the last.
Just as Pete Dye drew it up in his head all those years ago … a drama filled Sunday for us all.
ODDS AND ENDS
Stunning Stuff on 17: Fans around the amphitheater that is the par-3 17th were certainly given a treat. Eddie Pepperell’s 49-foot, seven-inch birdie on the Island Green was downright filthy good. “What can I say, it was pretty awesome, to be fair,” he smiled when recounting the double breaker up and over the rise from the front of the green to the back corner. But almost before the fans could even sit down after a standing ovation as Pepperell left the green Jhonattan Vegas decided to one up him. Vegas found a way to make the longest recorded putt ever on the green – a whopper from 69-feet, seven-inches. It beat out Bernhard Langer’s 59-foot, seven-inch effort from 2008’s second round. “Absolutely mind blowing, simple as that,” Vegas said. “It never crossed my mind that I was going to make such a long putt on such a phenomenal hole. But it's one of those things, that's kind of what you play golf for, to be in those kind of situations. Playing the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS with that crowd, it just doesn't get any better. Obviously, the type of memories that last a lifetime and something that I'll remember for forever.”
Furyk falls just short: Jim Furyk claimed his second runner up finish at THE PLAYERS, lighting up his local fans with a great late charge. It is his 31st career second place, tying him with Tiger Woods for second all-time. Phil Mickelson has 36. You can read more on his efforts here.
Johnson gets mini PLAYERS milestone: Coming into the week world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was without a top-10 finish in 10 starts at THE PLAYERS. But the move to March agreed with the 20-time PGA TOUR winner as he finished T5. Johnson (69-68-69-69) became the first player since Steve Elkington in 1997 to record all four rounds in the 60s at THE PLAYERS.
Rahm’s regret: Overnight leader Jon Rahm would end the day with a tough 76, the pivotal moment being pinned to his approach to the par-5 11th green. Rahm drove the ball into the left fairway bunker and a path to the green was seemingly blocked out by trees – not to mention the water he would have to clear. When playing partner Tommy Fleetwood found water from the fairway Rahm’s caddie Adam Hayes worked at convincing his player to lay up to safety and try to make birdie with his wedge game. Instead the Spaniard was convinced he could hook the ball up and around the trouble. “Based on the way it was lying, with the lines of the bunker going towards the hole, I was trying to hit a big draw,” Rahm said. “It was easier to take it than try to hit a wedge shot toward the fairway. It was a sand wedge. It might’ve been 80 yards tops but the ball from the angle was settled down, so I didn’t like it. Adam was trying to convince me to go right.” Rahm’s attempt was a poor one that got wet and had no chance of making land. It would eventually result in a bogey. “When I first got to the ball, I was really sure I could do it. If you give me 10 balls, besides that one, I’d hit the other nine on land,” he said.
TIGER WOODS (69/6 under) – Best round of the week for the two-time PLAYERS Champion. Will play the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play as his next start.
ADAM SCOTT (70/11 under) – Former champ bogeyed both back nine par-5s to take some gloss off.
JUSTIN ROSE (68/12 under) – The FedExCup champion secured a third top-10 of the season to move to 12th in the standings.
JASON DAY (72/12 under) – The 2016 PLAYERS Champion just couldn’t get his putter hot, settling for his fourth top-10 this season.
RICKIE FOWLER (76/3 under) – Illness he battled all week finally caught up with the 2015 PLAYERS Champion.
PATRICK REED (78/3 under) – Front nine 41 took away any faint hope the Masters champion started with ...
BRYSON DeCHAMBEAU (71/9 under) – Three front nine birdies had some thinking he might charge into the mix. But two bogeys off the turn killed him off.
WEBB SIMPSON (68/8 under) – The defending champ posted his best round of the week despite a one-shot penalty when his putter got caught in his clothing and accidentally hit his ball on the fringe at 14.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI (72/2 under) – Last week’s winner at Bay Hill finished well back.
BROOKS KOEPKA (70/2 under) – Was 4 under on his round through 16 holes with two birdies and an eagle before finding the water at 17.
SERGIO GARCIA (67/8 under) – Great finish for the former champion.
Shot of the Day
Jhonattan Vegas sinks 70-foot birdie at No. 17 for Shot of the Day
THEY SAID ITIt still stings. I mean, I'm a competitor, and I want to win, and it pisses me off I didn't.
I was hitting the golf ball well and I'm frustrated at lipping more putts out than I think I have in a very long time.
I play golf because I love the game and I know that I have a talent for it and I want to make the most of it. So I'm just satisfied that I've added another great tournament to my CV, and it puts me in a great spot going forward.
It was just a matter of time; it was going to happen.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 – Number of players who have won a FedExCup, THE PLAYERS, a major and a World Golf Championship. Rory McIlroy joined Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson
6 – Number of consecutive top-10s for McIlroy. The best streak of his career.
23 – Birdies by Abraham Ancer and Brandt Snedeker this week. Most in the field.
24 – Number of rounds in the 60s at THE PLAYERS for Sergio Garcia. The most ever. Adam Scott has 23.
7 – The highest score at the Island Green par-3 17th this week. Shared by Tiger Woods, Sam Ryder and Paul Casey.
STROKES GAINED LEADERS: Off-the-tee (Adam Scott, 2.003); Tee-to-Green (Dustin Johnson, 4.277); Approach-the-Green (Nick Taylor, 4.055); Around-the-Green (Eddie Pepperell, 3.709); Putting (Thorbjorn Olesen, 3.882); Total (Eddie Pepperell, Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas, 5.260).
LONGEST DRIVE: 356 yards – Luke List on 14.
LONGEST PUTT: 69-feet, 7 inches. Jhonattan Vegas drilled a miracle birdie on the par-3 17th.
LONGEST HOLE-OUT: 47 yards – Thorbjorn Olesen.
MOST BIRDIES: 7 – Francesco Molinari (72), Thorbjorn Olesen (69), Eddie Pepperell (66), Nick Taylor (67), Jimmy Walker (71).
BOGEY-FREE ROUNDS: Jhonattan Vegas (66), J.T.Poston (70)
HARDEST HOLE: Par-4 18th. Played 4.288. Just nine birdies.