PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida May 16 – South Korean K.J. Choi sank a par putt on the first playoff hole to edge American David Toms and win the Players Championship, becoming the first Asian to claim the Players crown.
Choi, who turns 41 on Thursday, captured the $1.71 million top prize at the $9.5 million event for his eighth career USPGA crown, his first triumph since the 2008 Sony Open in Hawaii.
"This was the best week I’ve ever played," said Choi of the biggest win of his career. "For me to shoot under par every day on this course this week, it’s like a miracle, to be honest with you."
Choi sank a three-foot par putt on the famed island green on the 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass for the victory after Toms, who made a 17-foot birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff, botched a 3 1/2-foot par putt moments before.
"On the 17th hole, I was very nervous in the playoff," Choi said.
He also pretty much guaranteed himself a spot on the Presidents Cup team and will move to world number 15 when the new rankings come out.
Toms, 44, bungled away a chance for his 13th PGA title. The 2001 PGA Championship winner has not won any title since the 2006 Sony Open in Hawaii.
"Disappointed but I hung in there," Toms said of the sudden death putt. "No excuses, no spike marks, no ball marks, no nothing "Maybe a lot of pressure. But other than that, there was no excuse."
The playoff began with Choi and Toms each avoiding the water, but Choi was 41 feet from the cup with Toms just under half as far.
Each rolled the ball three feet past the hole, but Toms missed his par putt — his first miss all week inside of five feet — and Choi tapped his putt into the cup for the victory.
"I felt very sorry for him," Choi said. "Because I know how that feels. And I felt bad for him."
Choi played alongside Toms and reigning US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland in the final round after they topped the leaderboard following Sunday morning’s completion of the rain-interrupted third round.
Choi birdied the par-3 13th to move within a stroke of Toms and American Paul Goydos birdied the par-5 16th to move within two strokes of the leader, setting up the drama over the final holes.
Toms sank a 14-foot par putt at the 15th but found the rough off the tee at the par-5 16th and put his second shot into the water, taking a bogey to fall into a tie for the lead with Choi, who missed a five-foot birdie putt at 16.
Goydos finished a round of 69 to reach the clubhouse at 11-under 277, one off the pace, as co-leaders Toms and Choi reached the 17th tee.
Toms and Choi each avoided the water, hitting nine-iron shots onto the green, but Toms left an 18-foot birdie bid from the fringe short.
"I need to work on my putting," Toms said. "If I had made a few more this week I might have had a greater advantage on some of my competitors."
Choi responded by curling in a testy 10-footer for birdie to grab a one-shot lead with one hole remaining, but the 18th surrendered only four birdies in the last round, playing the toughest of any hole on Sunday afternoon.
Toms drove the ball into a divot in the middle of the fairway, but put the ball solidly on the green, 17 feet from the cup, and sank a tense birdie putt to match Choi for the lead.
Choi, who found rough 75 feet from the pin with his approach, put his third shot five feet from the cup, then watched Toms sink his putt before dropping his own pressure-packed putt to force the fourth playoff in Players history.
Goydos settled for third, one stroke ahead of countryman Nick Watney and England’s Luke Donald.
Forty players, including most of the eventual top finishers, were forced to finish their third round Sunday morning after storms halted play on Saturday.
Choi and Toms began the final round one stroke behind 54-hole leader McDowell, but Toms sizzled early, making birdies at the par-5 second and par-4 fourth and sixth holes before stumbling with a bogey at the par-3 eighth.
Toms kept the lead after Choi, who opened with a birdie, took a bogey at the fifth and lipped out a four-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
Choi birdied the 10th but missed another four-footer, this time for par at 11, to leave Toms two ahead with seven holes to play.