Stephen Ames blew away the strongest field in golf with a 5-under 67 to win The Players Championship by six shots on Sunday.
Ponte Vedra Beach:
Stephen Ames blew away the strongest field in golf with a 5-under 67 to win The Players Championship by six shots on Sunday and earn an unlikely trip to the Masters.
Ames made only one mistake, a double bogey on the 10th hole when he took two shots to get out of the bunker, and it looked as if he would have to battle his nerves along the scary back nine of the Stadium Course at treacherous Sawgrass.
Instead, the Canadian poured it on with impeccable shots that stretched his lead so much that the tiny island of a 17th green was only another hole on his way to a dominant victory.
Ames finished at 14-under 274, six shots clear of two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, who closed with a 69. The scoring average was 75.378, the second-toughest Sunday in Sawgrass history. Despite playing in the final group, Ames was eight shots better and had the best score of the day.
He earned $1.44 million for his second US PGA Tour victory, and also got a three-year exemption to the Masters. Whether he goes remains to be seen.
Those who had a chance to win The Players Championship didn't last long. Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Mike Weir stumbled early. Ernie Els collapsed late. Goosen got within two shots of Ames at one point on the back nine, but that didn't last long.
Coming off his double bogey at No 10, Ames blistered his tee shot and hit a flawless approach into the par-5 11th for a two-putt birdie from 15 feet.
On the par-3 13th, his tee shot caught the ridge and rolled to 2 feet for another easy birdie, and he knew The Players Championship belonged to him with a 15-foot par save on the 14th. Instead of playing it safe, Ames played without fear.
He made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 15th, where the hole was tucked on the left side. From the first cut of rough on the par-5 16th, he went after the flag and narrowly cleared a bunker by the lake, making the 25-foot eagle.
The only conservative play came on the 17th, the notorious island green. Ames went for the middle of the green, found land, and two-putted for par.
And with a six-shot lead playing the final hole, Ames lived up to his name. He took dead aim.
Colombian rookie Camilo Villegas, who got into the tournament when Chris DiMarco withdrew, nearly made it into the Masters. He closed with a 71 and finished in a four-way tie for third at 283 to earn $384,000.
He moved up to 11th on the US money list - only the top 10 are eligible for the Masters - coming up $94,971 short.
Tiger Woods was never part of the equation. He twice made double bogey from the middle of the fairway, on Nos 10 and 14, and closed with a 75.
Next up for Woods is the two-day Tavistock Cup at his home course in Isleworth, then off to the Masters next Monday - depending on his father's health.
Firm and fast after three straight days of dry, sunny weather, Sawgrass was an accident waiting to happen. Ames started from the inside pole, with a one-shot lead over Singh and Garcia. Fans didn't have to wait until the back nine to see the big wreck.
Weir, three shots out of the lead when he started, hit into the water on No. 4 and three-putted for a triple bogey, never to be heard from again. He wound up with a 79. Garcia tried a new putting grip that didn't cure his woes.
He three-putted for bogey on the easy par-5 second, missing a 2-footer, took bogey on No 3 from the bunker and went into the water for a double bogey on No 4 on his way to a 78.
Singh might have been the biggest surprise, the local favourite who has a house down the coastal road and makes his home on the range at Sawgrass.
He was hardly a daunting sight for Ames in the final group, as Singh made consecutive bogeys, hit into the water for a double bogey on No 9 and didn't make a birdie until the 11th hole. He shot 77.
Els went out in 32 and was at 7 under through 11 holes - three shots out of the lead and two hours ahead of the final group - when he missed 12-foot birdie putts on consecutive holes, made bogey on the next two and then hit into the water on the 16th and 17th. For all his work, he wound up with a 71.
It all afforded Ames a wide smile as he walked along the frightening closing holes, arms raised when he finished. (AP)