Last week Bryson DeChambeau, this week Justin Thomas. The scale of Lee Westwood’s achievements just weeks before he blows out 48 candles on a birthday cake can be found in the identity of those who have beaten him so narrowly to titles. Thomas even claimed it required “one of the best rounds of my life from tee to green” to take the Players Championship. As has happened seven days earlier at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Westwood fell just one measly shot short.
“I take it for what it is: a game,” said Westwood. “We’re just trying to get a little white ball into a little white hole. It gets treated far too seriously occasionally. With what’s going on in the world, it’s fun to be doing a job that I love, that I’ve done for 28 years, and I’m still doing it.
“There’s no downside, really. I didn’t deserve to win today because I didn’t hit the ball well enough. You’ve got to have realities in your life and my life is full of reality.”
This marked a significant and timely success for Thomas. His mindset and reputation had been harmed by the homophobic slur as uttered – to himself – upon missing a putt in Hawaii in January. This cost the golfer a sponsorship with Ralph Lauren. Thomas also suffered the death of his grandfather, with whom he was very close, whilst playing the Phoenix Open. The latter subject reduced Thomas to tears during post-round media duties at Sawgrass.
“To do this in front of fans again feels incredible,” said Thomas. “This is a day I’ll never forget.
“It’s been a crappy couple of months. I’ve had stuff happen in my life I never thought I’d have happen. This tested me mentally, physically, emotionally, and I’m very proud of myself for getting it done.”
Thomas shot 64 and 68 over the weekend to seal victory at 14 under par. And yet, it took until an eagle at the 11th hole on Sunday for the 27-year-old to edge ahead of Westwood. When the Englishman birdied the 1st, opening up a three-shot lead over DeChambeau, the fairytale had continued.
Westwood’s tilt at what would have been the biggest title of an illustrious career was undone by the finding of two bunkers at the generous 16th. Given his contribution to this, the PGA Tour’s blue-chip event, it would have seemed wholly unfair had Westwood only shared second place with DeChambeau and Brian Harman. Instead, Westwood converted from 15ft for a 72nd hole birdie.
Paul Casey signed for a fourth round of 70, which meant a share of fifth. Shane Lowry’s 68 and nine under meant eighth place. Lowry revealed he and Westwood will spend Monday and Tuesday at Augusta National, allowing themselves some Masters preparation. On all available evidence, it would be wholly unwise to discount Westwood from donning a Green Jacket just yet.