PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Sunday at Sawgrass felt tougher on Sergio Garcia than what he faced last summer at the British Open, a playoff loss that seemed to define a career filled with more talent than trophies.
He was tormented by a suspect putter. He heard questions whether he could win a big one.
All that changed in the final hour of the Players Championship thanks to two clutch putts, a wedge that found safety on an island and a playoff victory that Garcia desperately needed.
The best player without a major got the next best thing, making a 7-foot par putt that put him in a playoff then beating Paul Goydos on the notorious island-green 17th with a wedge into 4 feet and a putt he could afford to miss after Goydos hit into the water.
"It feels like a major, and it tests you like a major," Garcia said. "I'm so thrilled to be here standing with the trophy."
It was a long time coming.
Garcia was in the longest victory drought of his career, stretching over three years and 53 PGA Tour starts. Motivated by criticism of his putting, he rolled in one critical putt after another, none bigger than a slippery par putt on the final hole for 1-under 71. It put him in the playoff when Goydos missed a 15-foot par putt.
And Goydos, a guy with only two career wins, was gracious in defeat.
"I got beat," said Goydos, 43. "I played good golf. That doesn't mean you win. There's no defense. I can't tackle the little guy. There's no knee-capping. You have to accept the guy beat me. They key is to have the lead with no holes to go."
Garcia and Goydos each finished at 5-under 283.
The Spaniard, 28, whose seven PGA Tour victories are the most by players younger than 30, earned $1.71-million from the richest purse in golf and again enters the conversation as a major contender with the U.S. Open a month away.
"The goal is to keep getting better, and the only thing this tells me is to keep working hard and to believe in myself," Garcia said. "And when I do believe in myself, I think there's not a lot of guys out there that can beat me."
Notable: The wind was relentless at as much as 30 mph, stronger than it had been all week, turning the Stadium Course into a terror. … Jesper Parnevik posted 85, the highest score at TPC Sawgrass in five years.
Elsewhere: Colt Knost won the Nationwide Tour's Fort Smith Classic in Arkansas, shooting 5-under 65 to finish at 12-under 268 and edge St. Petersburg's Darron Stiles by a stroke. Stiles (71) made the turn at 14 under but shot 38 on the back.