Sunday, January 21, 2018
Golf

Si Woo Kim becomes youngest Players Championship winner

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Si Woo Kim became the youngest winner of the Players Championship with a game and nerves well beyond his 21 years.

On a TPC Sawgrass course where anything can go wrong without notice, Kim was the only player to go bogey-free Sunday and closed with 3-under 69 for a three-shot victory in golf's biggest tournament this side of the majors.

Kim becomes the second player from South Korea to win the tournament, joining K.J. Choi in 2011.

"From that moment, I was dreaming that I really want to be in this tournament," Kim said through a translator. "And I'm very glad I could practice with him. He gave me a lot of advice. That's why I could do well."

Kim also managed to take all the suspense from TPC Sawgrass.

All that could stop him was the final two holes, when he had a two-shot lead and faced a tee shot to an island green and then a closing hole with water all the way down the left side.

Kim hit the 17th green and two-putted from 45 feet, and he smashed another drive right down the middle. He finished at 10-under 278 for his second PGA Tour win, three shots better than Ian Poulter (71) and Louis Oosthuizen (73).

"I still can't believe I'm the champion and I'm the youngest champion," Kim said. "I'm looking forward to working hard from now on."

Kim eclipsed Adam Scott, who won the Players Championship at 23 in 2004.

Kim said he wasn't nervous because of his victory last year in the Wyndham Championship, which gave him a two-year exemption on the tour. This win gets him a five-year exemption on the tour and a three-year exemption to the Masters.

Just over four years ago, Kim came to the United States to play the final version of the tour's qualifying school. He earned a card at age 17, but he could not become a tour member until he turned 18 the following June. That card effectively went to waste, and Kim spent the next two years on the developmental tour until earning his card back to the big leagues.

Noble charge

The only drama at the end came from Ian Poulter, who two weeks ago thought he had lost his PGA Tour card until officials realized a clerical oversight that restored his status and gave him a spot in the Players Championship. He was the only player to seriously challenge Kim until he ran out of holes, and then it was a matter of finishing second.

Poulter shanked his second shot from the right rough at the 18th, and the ball bounced off hospitality tents, down a cart path and into a palmetto bush. He took a penalty drop and then hit wedge over the trees and nearly holed it, tapping in for bogey and 71.

The bogey was only his second over the final 46 holes of the tournament.

"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. "But the fourth shot was pretty special — from one of the worst shots I've ever hit to one of the very best."

Spills and thrills

Louis Oosthuizen, who began the day one stroke off the lead, wore as inspiration a belt buckle with an image of the British Open's claret jug, which he won in 2010. Playing with Si Woo Kim, he fell out of the lead for good with a fairway bunker shot into the water for double bogey on No. 4. His 73 left him tied for second with Ian Poulter.

Rafa Cabrera Bello hit 8-iron that bounded off the side of a bunker and into the cup for a double eagle on the par-5 16th. He followed that with birdie on 17, then holed a long par putt from just off the 18th green. That gave the Spaniard 70 and a tie for fourth with Kyle Stanley, a co-leader after 54 holes who shot 75.

Numbers of the day

80 Score of Jason Day, the worst in the final round by a defending champion in a Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass

84 Score of third-round co-leader J.B. Holmes, the worst in the final round score by anyone at TPC Sawgrass since 2009. He tied for 41st, the worst finish by a 54-hole leader in tournament history.

Information from the Golf Channel was used in this report.

   
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