PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Some observations from the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship, where Jason Day overcame a tough start to cruise to a four-shot victory at TPC Sawgrass’ THE PLAYERS Stadium Course. Day takes over the lead in the FedExCup after picking up his third win of the season (Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play Championship):
AVERTING DISASTER: Jason Day tied the course record at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday and went wire-to-wire for his first victory at THE PLAYERS Championship. For all his impressive play this week, it was a bogey putt that he said was his most important shot.
In the final round, Day hit his second shot near the green on the par-5 ninth hole. He flubbed three chips out of the Bermudagrass rough, though, and had to hole a 6-foot putt just to save bogey.
“(I) felt like an amateur chopping my way to the pin from only 10 yards off the green,” Day said. “If I walk away with a double-bogey there ... that gives (my pursuers) a boost of energy, a boost of momentum.”
He started the final round with a four-shot lead, but his advantage was down to two strokes after a difficult front nine. Day, who also made bogey at the sixth hole, made the turn in 2-over 38. He had to save par several times after hitting just three greens on the front nine.
“Once I got to 10, I kind of said to myself, ‘You’re still in the game, you’ve still got the lead,’” Day said. “’You’re still in good shape.’”
Day holed birdie putts of nearly 20 feet on Nos. 10 and 12.
“Once I holed the birdie putt, that kind of settled everything down,” Day said. “Then I could kind of relax and go about my way.”
He added another birdie at the par-5 16th hole to shoot a bogey-free 33 on the back nine and win by four shots over Kevin Chappell.
Day had converted his previous four 54-hole leads into victory, and won six of his previous 16 starts. He admitted that he felt pressure to live up to the reputation he’s built with his recent dominance.
“I’m sitting there going, ‘Don’t choke.’ That would be the worst thing in the world,” Day said. “Everyone would be talking about it.
“Things like that go through your mind. They go through your mind out there on the front nine. It did, it really went through my mind. I just kept on saying to myself, ‘Just settle down.’”
Jason Day wins THE PLAYERS Championship
RALLY CAP: Kevin Chappell was three shots outside the cut halfway through his second round at TPC Sawgrass. Not only did he rally to earn a weekend tee time, but he eventually finished second at THE PLAYERS to continue the best season of his career.
Chappell moved up 10 spots in the FedExCup to No. 5. This is his third runner-up of the season (The RSM Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard). Chappell, who turns 30 in July, won the 2008 NCAA individual title while at UCLA. He is still seeking his first PGA TOUR victory.
He made birdie on eight of his final 10 holes Friday, shooting a record-tying 29 on the back nine. He shot 70-69 on the tough weekend at TPC Sawgrass thanks to three eagles on par-5s.
“I’m really proud of the way I hung in there,” Chappell said. “I was 2 over par through 26 holes and really fought hard to make the cut. … To hang in there today after a slower start, I’m real proud of myself.”
Chappell was 2 over after seven holes Sunday, but made a birdie at No. 9 and then chipped in for eagle at the par-5 11th. He added birdies at 16 and 17 to his bogey-free back nine.
“It kind of mirrored my week,” Chappell said of his final round. “Slow start, and really fought there in the middle of the round to salvage it. … And then I finished strong, which is nice.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Kevin Chappell's chip-in eagle is the Shot of the Day
GET A GRIP: Justin Thomas’ confidence was low when he arrived at TPC Sawgrass. He changed putting grips this week and said he didn’t like his chance to win THE PLAYERS.
Jason Day denied everyone an opportunity to win at TPC Sawgrass, but Thomas’ 65 was Sunday’s low round and gave him a third-place finish. He was in second place until Kevin Chappell made birdies at Nos. 16 and 17.
Thomas changed putting grips after a poor performance on the greens led to a missed cut at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. He finished 75th in his previous start, the RBC Heritage.
“I played really well last week. I just looked like I had never putted in my life when I got to the greens,” Thomas said.
It was just his second top-10 since his win at the CIMB Classic in November. Thomas, who has three third-place finishes this season in addition to his win, ranks sixth in the FedExCup.
Thomas has finished in the top 25 in both his PLAYERS starts. He started last year’s final round in fifth place before a final-round 75 dropped him to 24th.
“It really is one of my favorite courses to play when it gets in tournament condition,” Thomas said. “You just can’t fake it around here.”
CALL OF THE DAY
RETURN TO THE SCENE: Russell Knox was contending in THE PLAYERS Championship until he arrived at the 17th hole Saturday. He hit three tee shots in the water en route to a sextuple-bogey 9 that ended his chances.
Knox earned praise for how he handled the situation, sheepishly laughing and lifting his club in half-hearted celebration after his fourth attempt found land.
How did he feel when he returned to the scene Sunday?
“I’ve never been so nervous over a shot in my whole life,” said Knox. “It was a career-defining moment for me.”
That says something coming from a player who won a World Golf Championship (2015 HSBC Champions) and shot 59 on the Web.com Tour.
Knox hit the 17th green with his first attempt Sunday. He three-putted for bogey, though.
“If I couldn’t get off the tee there today, I was in big trouble,” Knox said. “I was very happy that I hit the green. Even though I three-putted, I beat my score by five (from) yesterday, so pretty solid.”
Knox shot 68 on Sunday, 12 shots lower than the previous day. How costly was his debacle at 17? He finished in 19th place, six shots out of second place.
QUOTE OF THE DAYTiger says he's going to kick my butt when he comes back, so I'm going to try and extend that gap.
HANGING TOUGH: Ken Duke shot one of the best rounds in PLAYERS history Saturday. He hung tough Sunday to finish third, his first top-10 since last June.
Duke made four bogeys and four birdies Sunday en route to an even-par 72 that put him in a tie for third place with Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar and Colt Knost.
After breaking his wrist in September, Duke didn’t return to the TOUR until February. He had missed the cut in five of nine starts in 2016 and hadn’t finished better than 37th.
Duke’s third round at TPC Sawgrass was 10.59 strokes better than the field average, the best of any player versus the field at this event since 1983. This was Duke’s best finish on TOUR since his lone TOUR win, at the 2013 Travelers Championship.
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