Dominating a treacherous golf course and a cast of formidable pursuers, Nick Price produced the best golf of his life to win The Players Championship by five strokes.
Price completed a wire-to-wire victory with a closing 67 over the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for a 72-hole total of 18-under-par 270. It shattered the tournament record by three strokes and left Bernhard Langer in second place, trailing by five strokes.
With his sixth PGA Tour victory since he began playing in the US in 1983, the 36-year-old native of Zimbabwe won the largest official cheque of his career – $450 000.
And although the 1992 PGA Championship was the biggest triumph of his career, Price said this might have been the most satisfying.
‘I couldn’t have played any better,’ he said. ‘I played aggressively, smart, patiently. I did everything the right way. I just felt so good out there.’
Although Price was being pursued by top guns like Langer, Greg Norman, Mark O’Meara and Paul Azinger, the quality of his play acted as a shield. He hit 61 of 72 greens in regulation on the sand- and water-laden course.
Price began the day with a one-stroke lead over three players and was tied when his playing partner, Mark O’Meara, birdied the 1st hole. But Price birdied the 2nd to reclaim the lead, and gained untold confidence with his mastery on the 384-yard par-four 4th.
After pushing his drive on to the severe upslope of a grass bunker, Price was faced with a 95-yard shot from the rough over water to a shallow green. Making the swift, compact swing that looked mistake-proof all week, he launched a perfectly struck sand-wedge that landed on the green about 40 feet short of the pin and rolled to three feet. His putt increased his lead to two shots.
‘Under the circumstances, that was probably the greatest shot I’ve ever hit in my life,’ said Price. From that point, no one could mount a challenge. Of the 11 golfers within four shots of him as the day began, only two, Langer and Rocco Mediate with 71s, broke par.
For a while, it looked as if O’Meara was the most likely to contend. Playing with Price, he opened with that birdie to tie for the lead, then made a 50-footer on the par-three 8th to get within one. He three-putted to bogey the 10th, but made another 50-footer for a birdie on the par-five 11th. But Price answered with a 10-footer of his own to keep his lead at three shots and increased it to four with a birdie on the short par-four 12th.
Although he finished second, Langer was never closer than three strokes after the 4th. The best last chance belonged to Norman, who seemed to have momentum when he birdied the 15th and 16th holes to pull within three.
But just as Price was studying his chip-shot third to the 16th, Norman’s tee shot to the island green on the 141-yard par-three 17th landed in the right fringe and bounced into the water.
270 – Nick Price (Zim) 64 68 71 67
275 – Bernhard Langer (Ger) 65 69 70 71
276 – Gil Morgan 68 71 72 65, Greg Norman (Aus) 66 70 68 72
277 – Mark O’Meara 67 71 66 73
278 – Paul Azinger 68 69 68 73, Ken Green 70 67 69 72, Rocco Mediate 68 71 68 71, Joe Ozaki (JPN) 72 68 68 70
279 – Tom Watson 70 72 69 68
280 – Joel Edwards 66 69 72 73, Dan Forsman 71 67 73 69, Mike Hulbert 71 67 72 70, Tom Lehman 69 73 69 69, Payne Stewart 70 70 66 74
– This article first appeared in the May issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!