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Justin Thomas is the winner of the 2021 PLAYERS Championship.
The 27-year-old American carded a four-under-par final round of 68 to reel in 54-hole leader Lee Westwood and win his 14th PGA Tour title.
The victory caps an exceptionally difficult start to the year for the former world No.1.
In January, Thomas was widely condemned after on-course microphones captured him using a homophobic slur at himself, a furore that cost him a lucrative endorsement deal with Ralph Lauren.
That came shortly before the loss of his paternal grandfather Paul at the start of February.
Not surprisingly, he struggled to contain his emotions after sealing victory at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s been a long year is an understatement,” said Thomas. “It’s been a weird year but [my family] are always so supportive of me. I believe it but they tell me that they love me no matter what I shoot and how I play.
“When you’re in a tough place mentally or when you don’t feel as great, to have a support system like that and everybody on my team, it’s huge.
“This game can do the weirdest things to you mentally. It can make you feel like you’re in such a deep dark hole when you’re really not and having a support system like I do makes it a lot easier.”
Like Bryson DeChambeau last week, Thomas added that he exchanged messages with Tiger Woods – currently recovering in hospital from his near-fatal car crash on February 23 – during this past week.
“I was replaying what he told me a lot in my head,” added Thomas. “He likes to give me a lot of grief, especially when he’s not here. Like Bryson said, we’re all pulling for him, and I’m so glad to hear everything has been going well with him.
“Part of me wishes he was here so I could rub it in his face a little bit more. But no, I’m happy and I hope he’s happy, and I always appreciate his help.
“He’s so nice to myself and Bryson and so many guys out here that if you would have told us when we were 15, 20-years-old that Tiger Woods would be texting us the night before we have a chance to win the tournament trying to inspire us, that’s pretty cool.”
With his win, Thomas joins Woods as the only players with ten-plus PGA Tour wins, a major and a PLAYERS victory before the age of 28.
He will also leapfrog Jon Rahm and move into second place on the world rankings when the OWGR updates on Monday morning.
For Westwood, it was a second consecutive second-place finish on tour. The Englishman is now 11 for 25 when it comes to converting 54-hole leads into wins but, whilst acknowledging he showed up with his ‘C’ game on Sunday, the reigning Race To Dubai champion was far from despondent.
“I didn’t play my best golf today by any stretch of the imagination, but I battled it out,” he said. “I was proud of myself for that.
“My legs felt a bit heavy, and I felt a little bit lethargic, like I wasn’t swinging as well and I wasn’t striking the ball as well, and that was evident from the tee shots off 2, 4, 11. I really got away with those.
“But, you know, these are world-class fields. These are young guys that I’m giving 20, 25 years to most of them, and I’m still contending. I’m enjoying it. It’s a thrill to be out here and still playing well.”
Bryson DeChambeau finished in a tie for third alongside Brian Harman, with Talor Gooch and Paul Casey tied for fifth.
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