By Sam McPherson
The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer made it look quite easy this weekend at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Jason Day posted a dominant win at TPC Sawgrass, leading from Thursday’s first round all the way to Sunday’s final hole. His opening-round 63 gave notice to the rest of the field, but they still had no chance to catch him the rest of the way. Day earned $1.89 million for the win.
Jordan Spieth, No. 2 in the world, missed the cut after shooting 72-71 on Thursday and Friday, while No. 3 Rory McIlroy finished in 12th place — eight strokes behind Day — after an inconsistent effort over the four rounds. No. 4 Bubba Watson was 15 strokes behind the winner, and No. 5 Rickie Fowler — the defending champion — missed the cut with the same scores as Spieth.
Day’s round-by-round scores of 63-66-73-71 for a 15-under total gave him a four-shot win over unheralded Kevin Chappell. Four other players — Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar, Colt Knost and Ken Duke — tied for third at 10-under par. Kuchar won the event in 2012. Knost captured the crowd’s attention with a course record-tying 63 on one of the PGA Tour’s signature courses Friday, one day after Day shot the same score.
A key ingredient to Day’s win was that he didn’t bogey on the back nine throughout the entire tournament. This eased the path to victory despite his shooting even par in the weekend’s final two rounds. Starting fast and not succumbing to pressure after that just showed again why Day is the top-ranked golfer on the planet.
Spieth and Fowler’s failure to make the cut, despite shooting one-under par for the first two rounds, is a testament to the field’s strong play. The two can thank Day for the assist on that, as his 15-under score made for a more challenging cut line than is typically seen in a PGA Tour event. McIlroy shot even par on Thursday and made it to the weekend only after carding a 64 on Friday. Watson was four under after two rounds, but shot back-to-back 74s on Saturday and Sunday to fall way off the pace.
Chappell’s consistency kept him relatively close to Day over the weekend: He shot under par in every round (71-67-70-69), the only player in the tournament to do that. Thomas, Kuchar and Knost all shot under 70 on Sunday to finish strong among a tough field at TPC Sawgrass. Thomas’s 65 was the best final-round score.
Day’s second wire-to-wire victory this season (his first was the win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March) is still the tournament headline. Day is the first golfer to dominate The Players Championship like this since Hal Sutton in 2000. His winning score of 273 is the lowest since Tim Clark’s 272 in 2010.
Next On The Tee: AT&T Byron Nelson
The AT&T Byron Nelson will be played at TPC Four Seasons Resort Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas. This year’s purse is expected to be around $7.3 million, with the winner earning a $1.314 million check. Steven Bowditch, the defending champion, will be back to defend his title against former event champions Brendon Todd (2014), Jason Dufner (2012) and Keegan Bradley (2011). Day won this event in 2010, but he will not play this week. Kuchar will, however, and his career tournament scoring average of 69.18 could be good enough to win.
Former champion Ernie Els (1995), who shot an opening-round 66 at The Players before fading to a 64th-place tie, is scheduled to play at TPC Sawgrass. Another tournament winner Sergio Garcia (2204), who limped to a 54th-place Players finish despite his second-round 66, will also be in the field. Wells Fargo champion James Hahn will be on hand, along with fan favorite “Big Gravy” Knost, fresh off his fourth-place finish at The Players.
The course was designed with the help of the great Byron Nelson himself, a five-time major champion and winner of 64 PGA Tour events during his career. Jay Morrish was the head course designer, and Texas golfing legend Ben Crenshaw — a two-time Masters champion — also contributed. The course has hosted this event since 1986, the year it opened. The Byron Nelson is planning a move to a new yet-to-be-built course in Dallas in 2019.
The TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas course plays 7,166 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson
Players to Watch: Ken Duke, James Hahn, Colt Knost
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS, and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.