By MIKE BONTS
The Florida Star
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Si Woo Kim shot a final round 3-under 69 to win The Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
The event’s youngest winner at age 21, Kim began the final round two strokes off the lead and posted the day’s only bogey-free round.
“I feel like I’m still dreaming,” Kim said via a translator after the victory. “I never expected that I’m going to win this tournament, and I wasn’t doing that well at the beginning of this year, but I’m just so excited that I could be the champion. I just focused on myself and I didn’t try to think about others’ scores. I think that really helped me to be stable.”
Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen tied for second. Rafa Cabrera Bello and Kyle Stanley finished in a tie for fourth.
Kim is the first winner on the tour to go bogey-free over his last 18 holes since Jordan Spieth earlier this season at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the first Players champion to do so since Tim Clark in 2010.
The win in his second appearance in the tournament comes as Kim has struggled this season with seven missed cuts and four withdraws. His best showing prior to this week was a tenth in his season-starter at the CIMB Classic.The victory grants Kim a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour as well as a five-year exemption into this tournament. It also carries, among other perks, an exemption into the U.S. Open through 2019 and an invitation into the Masters through 2020.
Three of the last four winners of The Players were international players. Kim becomes the 14th different international winner of the championship and joins 2011 champ K.J. Choi as players from South Korea to win.
“K.J. has become a really good model,” Kim said. “So, because he had won before I have, I am kind of confident that a Korean can win one of these tournaments, and that actually helps me when I’m playing.”
Poulter’s approach shot into the trees right of the fairway on the final hole ended his pursuit of Kim.
“It was a big shock to the system to hit one of those nasty shanks when I’ve hit it as good as I have all week,” Poulter said of his approach at the final hole. “But the fourth shot was special, from one of the worst shots I’ve ever hit to one of the very best. It’s nice to close out — it’s nice obviously not to compound an error with another one.
Poulter played 30 consecutive holes without a bogey before a bogey at the par-4 No. 12 in the final round.
“As good as this week was, I’m still going to try and dissect it and work on certain things that need working on — like the dreaded shank. Oh, it was a full one. Yeah, it was a lovely one. Make no mistake — it was a shank.”
In search of his first victory on U.S. soil, 2010 Open Championship winner Oosthuizen posted a 1-over 73 in the final round to finish in a tie for runner-up, marking his best performance in seven starts in The Players Championship.
Bello made history as the first player to record a double eagle at the par-5 No. 16 in tournament history. It was just the third double eagle at TPC Sawgrass. Bello, who was making his second start in championship, finished fourth after starting the final round five strokes back. In his only other start, he missed the cut in 2016.
Stanley birdied the 17th in the final round and became the first player in tournament history to make a 2 on the par-3 all four days
COMEBACK KID: Kim began Sunday just two shots off the lead. His win was marked by steady play and fueled by three birdies on the front nine and finished his round with nine straight pars. Kim’s winning 278 tournament total is the highest since Sergio Garcia won in 2008 (283). The largest final-round, come-from-behind victory in the tournament is six strokes by Raymond Floyd in 1981 at Sawgrass Country Club. The largest final-round, come-from-behind victory at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is five shots by Justin Leonard (1998) and Henrik Stenson (2009).
NOTABLES: Defending champion Jason Day closed with an 8-over 80 his second highest score in 22 rounds. Third-round co-leader J.B. Holmes ballooned to an 84 on Sunday and fell into a tie for 41st at 291. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson carded a 68 in the final round, just his third round in the 60s in 30 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass. His 68 matched his low round at the Stadium Course. Beginning the day four shots back, reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia closed with a 6-over 78 to finish in a tie at No. 30.
BY THE NUMBERS: 41 players went for the green on the par-4 12th hole in the final round compared to 26 in round one, 39 in round two and 46 in round three. Some players attempted to hit the green using irons off the tee. Two players hit the green on Sunday, Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton. There were 11 balls in the water at the par-3 17th hole Sunday.