On Sunday afternoon, Tyrrell Hatton sat down beside NBC’s Mike Tirico and watched as highlights from his previous two hours played out on a monitor in front of him. Birdie at 10. Birdie at 12. And then the ridiculous stretch of birdies coming home: 14-15-16-17-18. As his final approach shot nestled near the back hole location in the replay before him, Hatton noticed himself grinning.
“You have to clip that, that I actually smiled on the golf course,” said the oft-exasperated Englishman. Hatton’s back nine catapulted him from the obscurity of five-under par (he would have finished T29 or so) into solo second place at 12 under. He earned $2.7 million in the process.
But one man’s treasure means another man’s trash, and on this Players Sunday, there were a handful of pros who saw their fortunes shrink throughout the day. Let’s review those who were poised to win big — until TPC Sawgrass got in the way:
Taylor Montgomery started the day in T11 and worked his way onto the first page of the leaderboard with five birdies in his first 14 holes to get to 10-under par — a number that would have left him T3 and in possession of a seven-figure check. Things started to go wrong when Montgomery made bogey at the par-4 15th. They got worse when he took two chips and three putts en route to a double-bogey 7 at the par-5 16th. And they got downright miserable when he hit his tee shot in the water long and left at the par-3 17th, dropped, hit his pitch shot in the water, too, dropped again and settled for a quadruple-bogey 7. That stretch of three holes in seven-over par brought him back to 3-under par, a share of 44th place and roughly $75,000.
Aaron Rai was in line for a top-five finish after a birdie at No. 16. But then he returned to the par-3 17th, where he’d made an ace the day before. This time, he hit it long and left, wound up making triple bogey and plummeted to T19. His earnings went from just under $1 million to $275,000 instead.
Chad Ramey played alongside Rai and got off to a horrific start with a three-putt double at No. 1 and a scrambling bogey at No. 2. He righted the ship for most of the round before completing a bad bookend with another double bogey at 18. His final-round 76 left him T27. For a guy who has never had a top-20 finish in a big-time Tour event (he has a win and a T5 in opposite-field events), this represented a massive opportunity; I’m sure Ramey will come away slightly disappointed.
Tommy Fleetwood began the day T4 but played his way out of contention with three bogeys in his first six holes. He played his way back onto the leaderboard’s first page with birdies at 10, 11 and 12. But then he took an unplayable after a rogue tee shot at 14, hit a poor approach from there and walked off with double. At No. 17, his tee shot seemed to catch a gust and wound up in the water short. Double bogey again. He fell from T5 to T27 as a result.
Min Woo Lee held a share of the lead at 13-under par after a nifty up and down for par at the par-3 third. It’s hard to neatly sum up the rest of his day. He made an ugly triple bogey at No. 4, dumping his wedge approach in the water short. Not much happened until the par-5 11th, where he his his tee shot in the woods left, took three shots to escape and made double-bogey 7. He rallied with birdies at 16 and 17 — but bogeyed No. 18 to finish T6 with a 76. He still made $736,607, so I’d expect he can pay his electric bill. But if you could turn those 7s into pars, he would have earned a couple million more, plus special temporary status on the PGA Tour (Lee is a DP World Tour member). Based on the game he showed all week, there’s little doubt he’ll be there before long.
“Yeah, it happened really quick,” Lee said of his collapse. “It’s one of those things where it’s Sunday, and you just make a couple bad decisions, and it all kind of falls down.
“But I hung in there pretty well. I didn’t have it all today. It’s funny how [Saturday] I felt like I had the best swing in the world, and then today I just felt like nothing could go right. So, nice finish, and I’m pretty proud of the result, and I think it will take me a long way. It could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure.”
There are others, of course. Ben Griffin dropped from T13 to T35 with a triple bogey at No. 18. Cam Davis found the water at 17 and cost himself a chance at a podium in the process. Hideki Matsuyama played his final five holes in three-over par and cost himself a chance at T2 or better. The course got tougher as the day went on. The wind picked up. Other than winner Scottie Scheffler, nobody in the final three groups shot better than 74. Golf is hard and it’s harder with the finish line in sight, with points and dollar figures directly attached to every shot — and water lurking everywhere.
And there’s no question those late bogeys hurt the most.