Stunning stretch takes Thomas to title at The Players

By Sports Desk March 14, 2021

Justin Thomas claimed a one-stroke victory at The Players Championship after a run of three birdies and an eagle across four holes unseated overnight leader Lee Westwood on Sunday.

World number three and American star Thomas – fuelled by a four-under-par 64 – headed into the final round at TPC Sawgrass three strokes adrift of Westwood.

Westwood (72) had finished second at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, trailing Bryson DeChambeau (71), who was his nearest competitor again at the end of Saturday's play.

Westwood would be a runner-up once more, but this time was bested by Thomas, who stormed into the lead thanks to a frantic spell.

Westwood lacked momentum throughout his round and was back at 12 under – one over for the day – at the turn when Thomas took flight.

Thomas bogeyed the eighth but responded with a birdie at the ninth and suddenly found form.

He made three at the par-four 10th and then, with the day's decisive putt, claimed the lead outright with an eagle from 19 feet at 11. Another birdie at the next hole secured breathing space.

Although Westwood recovered to end the day as he started it, at 13 under, there was only a brief Thomas wobble with bogey at 14 followed by birdie at 16.

Thomas, who has a single major title at the 2017 US PGA Championship, claimed a maiden triumph at The Players and returned to the winner's circle for the first time since August's WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

It is also Thomas' 14th PGA Tour triumph, becoming the fourth player since 1960 to win 14 times on Tour before turning 28 – joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller.

"I fought so hard today," said Thomas, who tied the lowest final 36-hole score in Players history with his 64-68 (132) over the weekend. "I stayed patient. It was probably one of the best rounds of my life, tee to green."

Brian Harman used a final-round 69 to finish tied for third alongside U.S. Open champion DeChambeau – two shots behind Thomas.

Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson (71) and Jason Day (73) were among the players to end the tournament 35th in the standings, 11 shots off the pace.

Dustin Johnson (71) – the world number one – climbed up into a tie for 48th at one under, a stroke better off than Jordan Spieth (75), who is still without a win since 2017.

Related items

  • Ryder Cup: Garcia and Rahm to team up as Europe pick veterans for opening matches Ryder Cup: Garcia and Rahm to team up as Europe pick veterans for opening matches

    Europe will look to their Ryder Cup veterans to set the tone when play begins at Whistling Straits on Friday. 

    Captain Padraig Harrington's four oldest players, all in their 40s, will feature for Europe in the morning foursomes against a youthful USA group whose oldest player, Dustin Johnson, is 37. 

    All-time Ryder Cup scoring leader Sergio Garcia, 41, will lead the charge with world number one Jon Rahm as the Spanish pair face Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in the opening match in Wisconsin. 

    "We would have been aware that JT and Jordan would have gone first, obviously, so we were going to lead ourselves with a strong partnership," Harrington told a news conference. "The whole world will be watching that one."

    Teeing off next, Paul Casey (44) will team with rookie Viktor Hovland against Johnson and Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa, followed by Lee Westwood (48) and Matthew Fitzpatrick against Brooks Koepka and Danel Berger. 

    The final matchup of the opening session will pit Ian Poulter (45) and Rory McIlroy against the rookie American duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. 

    "We've gone with an experienced setup, no doubt about it, but it was our strong setup," Harrington said. "It just happened to be experienced. I was happy with that, there's no doubt, when it came out like that and you're looking at it and you go, yeah, that's very experienced. That is a big bonus.

    "But it didn't weaken our fourballs – that was very important. We still have a strong fourball setup and we haven't taken from the afternoon by going with a strong setup in the morning." 

    Europe will leave Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger on the sidelines for the opening matches, while the USA will do the same with Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler. 

    While the Europe captain said it was safe to assume his players who will sit out the morning will play in the afternoon fourballs, his US counterpart Steve Stricker declined to be drawn on that topic – though both captains said their foursome and fourball pairings were set and communicated to their teams early in the week.

    Each also said he was focused on his own side as opposed to worrying about what the other team might be doing, though both put special emphasis on the first and fourth matches. 

    "We talked occasionally about maybe who they're going to put out, but it doesn't matter," Stricker said. "I mean, they're all such great players, they're all highly ranked players and we know that we're going to have to play our best to to beat them.

    "We had an idea that Rory and Rahm would probably go one and four, and that's pretty much all we knew, or really thought about. We didn't know who their guys were going to be paired with but we kind of had that figured out, so we tried to act accordingly as well."

    Asked whether any of his players had expressed disappointment in not being included in the morning pairings, Stricker immediately responded "not at all." 

    "These guys have been incredible," he added. "I can't stress it enough, really, and it's about the communication that we've had, the captains and myself, and being upfront with them and just letting them know what we're thinking, so there's no curveballs.

    "We've heard it multiple times from all the players: If you want to play me once, or all five, you know, that's up to you – meaning the captains – and just so we can try to win this Cup."

    Friday's foursomes

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) v. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (EUR)
    Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) v. Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (EUR)
    Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) v. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (EUR)
    Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) v. Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (EUR)

  • Referees send people off for nothing – Koeman unhappy with red card in Barca's 0-0 draw with Cadiz Referees send people off for nothing – Koeman unhappy with red card in Barca's 0-0 draw with Cadiz

    Ronald Koeman says referees in Spain send people off "for nothing" after both he and midfielder Frenkie de Jong were dismissed in Barcelona's dire 0-0 draw with Cadiz on Thursday.

    Barca's hopes of leaving Andalusia with a much-needed win were dealt a blow when De Jong received a second yellow card in the 65th minute for following through on Alfonso Espino after initially winning the ball. 

    The Catalan giants' woes were compounded deep into stoppage time when Koeman was also ejected for his protestations towards referee Carlos del Cerro Grande.

    The stalemate means Barca have now drawn three of their opening five LaLiga games this season to sit seven points adrift of leaders Real Madrid, although Carlo Ancelotti's side have played a game more. 

    Koeman's dismissal followed a frantic period that saw two balls in play at the same time, with the Dutchman claiming he was given his marching orders by Cerro Grande for alerting him to the situation. Sergio Busquets was booked for kicking the rogue ball towards the Cadiz player in possession.

    "It was not because of nervousness, it was because I told the fourth official that there was a second ball on the field and the referee had to stop the game. Everyone except the referee saw it," he told Movistar.

    "They expel you for nothing, in this country they expel you for nothing. I have asked the referee as normal. Attitude? We leave it because it is not my problem."

    The goalless draw means Barca have failed to scored in two of their past three games across all competitions – as many as in their previous 41 matches. 

    Meanwhile, their tally of eight goals scored at this stage of the season is their worst since the 2003-04 season when they scored just five in their opening five matches. 

    Koeman's future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks and the Dutchman is aware that is unlikely to subside in the coming days.

    "I do not talk about my personal situation," he added. "It seems that if I win I continue and if I lose the club has to find another coach. It is for you [to talk about].

    "The president [Joan Laporta] was at the hotel, and we greeted each other shortly before leaving. Surely there will be more days to talk about this issue if the club wants to talk."

    Barca are next in action against Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday. 

  • La Russa on 'Fantasy Island' after returning to lead White Sox to AL Central title La Russa on 'Fantasy Island' after returning to lead White Sox to AL Central title

    The Chicago White Sox clinched their sixth division title with victory over nearest American League Central challengers the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

    In the first game of a double-header at Progressive Field, the White Sox prevailed 7-2 to become the first team in MLB to clinch a division this season.

    It is the fourth time they have won the AL Central – but first since 2008 – to go with two prior AL West triumphs.

    In-form shortstop Tim Anderson was hugely influential in the decisive win, with three hits, two runs and four RBIs. It was his seventh straight game with a hit since returning from a hamstring injury.

    But manager Tony La Russa was the centre of attention, having only returned to the major leagues with the White Sox this season after 10 years away.

    Having served as White Sox manager between 1979 and 1986, earning their first division championship in 1983, La Russa went on to win the World Series with both the Oakland Athletics (in 1989) and the St Louis Cardinals (in 2006 and 2011).

    The 76-year-old retired as a champion with the Cardinals but was brought back to Chicago to have an immediate impact, even if he credits the team.

    "The whole thing for me is Fantasy Island," he said. "Coming back like this.

    "We all know the truth. The first three jobs, the clubs were struggling when I took over. Managers don't walk into a situation like this, with a team so ready to win.

    "So, I'm very, very fortunate."

    The White Sox had a .383 win percentage as recently as 2018 but had improved rapidly prior to La Russa's arrival. The .136 increase between 2019 and 2020 was the ninth-largest year-to-year improvement in team history.

    But La Russa's players have certainly noted his impact, as Anderson said: "He came in and allowed us to be ourselves.

    "He always says players first. He allowed us to play the game the way we would want to and allowed us to have some fun."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.