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Cameron Smith earned the biggest victory of his career, outlasting Anirban Lahiri to capture the 2022 Players Championship on Monday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Lahiri was unable to birdie the 18th hole, which sealed the result for Smith.
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THE PLAYERSChampion. pic.twitter.com/8SSwUnWC3m
Smith finished at 13 unders, one shot better than Lahiri. Paul Casey, Kevin Kisner and Keegan Bradley rounded out the top five.
With the win, Smith is earning the big check ever for a golf tournament: $3.6 million. That’s a significant bump over the $2.7 million Justin Thomas collected for winning the 2021 Players Championship.
Players Championship Leaderboard
1. Cameron Smith (-13)
2. Anirban Lahiri (-12)
3. Paul Casey (-11)
4. Kevin Kisner (-10)
5. Keegan Bradley (-9)
T6. Harold Varner III (-8)
T6. Russell Knox (-8)
T6. Doug Ghim (-8)
Full leaderboard available at PGATour.com
The drama intensified as Bradley birdied No. 16 to halve the gap on Smith at the top of the leaderboard. The Australian, meanwhile, hooked his drive on No. 15 badly into the gallery on the edge of the tree line.
Smith deposited his second shot into a greenside bunker but managed to save par and stay at 13 under. His putting in the final round was something to behold. Every time the 28-year-old delivered when he needed to, thus ratcheting up the pressure on those chasing him.
Bradley, for example, went a bit conservative with his tee shot on No. 17. The shot landed safely on the island green but left him with an all but impossible birdie putt. He eventually bogeyed and slipped to 11 under.
Another poor drive on No. 16 from Smith left the door open for Bradley, Casey and Lahiri. The composition he showed on the green contrasted significantly with his inconsistency in the tee box. Once again, however, he saved by to maintain a two-shot lead.
All eyes were on Smith as he lined up his tee shot on the 17th hole. One mishit would potentially be catastrophic. Instead, he put one hand on the trophy by coming within five feet of the flagstick.
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ICE IN HIS VEINS
Cameron Smith went flag hunting at 17 😮 pic.twitter.com/NsAmFd7GYu
Smith was money with his birdie putt and carried a three-shot advantage as he walked to the 18th tee.
The risky approach he used to great success with his tee shot on 17 proved calamitous on 18. Hitting out from the trees with his second shot, he chipped the ball back out across the fairway and into the pond.
Smith made the best of a bad break by bogeying his final hole to put the onus on Lahiri. That bogey was ultimately enough in the end.
Coming into the final round, many fans were curious to see whether parity would reign supreme at Sawgrass. The difficult conditions in previous days had made for an unlikely battle for first.
As the day unfolded, any hope for a Cinderella story began to fade.
Sebastian Munoz double-bogeyed No. 1 and bogeyed No. 2 to immediately start at three over for the round. Doug Ghim had a double bogey on No. 2 to put himself behind the eight ball.
Lahiri also lost valuable ground with a double bogey on the eighth hole, canceling out his birdie on No. 4. He recovered with a birdie on the ninth hole to make the turn at even par. An eagle on the 11th hole then gave him a share of the lead.
That didn’t last long as Smith birdied the 12th hole to move to 12 under and claim first place for himself. Another birdie for Smith on No. 13 widened his lead to two shots, and his putt hit the bottom of the cup as a birdie putt for Lahiri rolled just short by inches.
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Cameron Smith’s first 12 holes today …
Smith wasn’t peerless down the stretch, but his performance clearly set him apart from the the field given the situation.
Further down the leaderboard, Dustin Johnson executed one of the best backdoor top-10 finishes in recent memory.
A third-round 76 ended any hope Johnson had of winning the tournament. Perhaps the absence of any real expectations helped the two-time major champion tie a race record with a nine-under 63.
Maybe the final round will catapult Johnson to his first win of the season within the next few weeks.
The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, is the next stop on the PGA Tour. The first major tournament is right around the corner as well, with the Masters teeing off April 7 at Augusta National Golf Club.