PALM HARBOR — So much for experience.
The final round of the Transitions Championship came down to a back-nine battle among three winless 20-somethings with seven years of PGA Tour experience combined.
While nerves played a role, no player was more steady than Gary Woodland.
Woodland drained 17 straight putts from 20 feet or shorter Sunday, including a 10-foot par putt on the 18th hole, to finish at 15-under 269 for a one-shot victory over Webb Simpson, 25. Tour rookie Scott Stallings, 25, finished three back alone in third.
Woodland, 26, shot his third 4-under 67 for the tournament. He earned $990,000 for his first PGA Tour win, roughly $700,000 more than he has earned in two previous years on tour. He has been hot so far this year, with a playoff loss at the Bob Hope Classic and two other top-10 finishes.
"I didn't putt very well at the Bob Hope when I lost," Woodland said. "That's kind of what held me back. I've had three top sixes coming into this week, but I didn't putt well on Sunday. (Sunday), that's what won the tournament."
Woodland entered the final round two shots behind Justin Rose and one behind Simpson and Brendon de Jonge. De Jonge (73) was in striking distance during the round but faded with four bogeys on the back nine.
Woodland started with birdie and added another on the par-5 fifth hole. Then things got interesting on the back nine. He had four birdies and three bogeys when he reached the par-3 17th. He stuck his shot 16 feet from the pin and drained the birdie putt.
The 18th hole was an adventure.
After a perfect drive, Woodland sent his pitching wedge from 148 yards sailing to the back of the green. That left him with a 66-foot downhill putt, which he ran 10 feet past. But he calmly sank the putt to remain tied with Simpson at 15 under.
"I tried to hit it in the back of the hole, and fortunately it went in," Woodland said.
Playing in the group behind Woodland, Simpson sprayed his tee shot into the left fairway bunker. His pitching wedge went to the back fringe and left him with an 80-foot chip. His shot sped 24 feet past the hole, and he missed the par putt. It was his only bogey on No. 18 in four rounds.
"I should've focused a little more," said Simpson (69). "It's one of the few bad putts I hit all week. I just pulled it."
Stallings (70), playing on a sponsor's exemption, was in the hunt after birdies on 14 and 15 put him a shot out of the lead. But his drive faded into the lake on 16, and he took double bogey.
"I hit a really good shot on 16," Stallings said. "It started where I wanted it to end. That's what kind of stinks about going first; you really don't know what the wind is going to do."
With his win, Woodland earns a two-year exemption on tour and gets an invitation to this year's Masters. He joins Carl Pettersson (2005) as the only players to make the Transitions Championship a first win. And he is the second-youngest winner (Sean O'Hair was 25 in 2008). His 15 under total is the lowest winning score since the tournament was moved to the spring in 2007.
It is only the second time Woodland has won as a professional. The other victory came at the High Plains Pro-Am in 2008 in Garden City, Kan.
Woodland believes his breakthrough at Innisbrook is just the beginning of his promising career.
"We're just at the tip of the iceberg right now," Woodland said. "I'm not anywhere near where I want to be."