Lee Westwood let another third round lead slip away last night as the South African Tim Clark completed an immaculate final day's work to claim the The Players Championship, the sport's richest event, at Sawgrass in Florida.
Clark shot the round of the day, a bogey-free 67, to put eight runners-up finishes in America behind him. He came from three behind Westwood overnight to beat Australian Robert Allenby by one with a 16 under par total of 272. Westwood had held a one shot lead on Allenby overnight and was still in the hunt at two behind with two to play, but went in the water on the short 17th and after a double bogey ended up joint fourth.
Clark played the final 26 holes without a bogey, surging into the lead with four straight birdies around the turn. Australia's Allenby watched in frustration as an 18-foot eagle putt on the 16th and 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th stopped just short of going in.
Earlier, the Tiger Woods comeback story took another twistwhen he quit during a round for the first time in his professional career. A stiff neck was given as the reason after Woods pulled out on the seventh hole of his final round . He was two over par for the day, two under for the tournament and had fallen from 45th place to 51st when he told playing partner Jason Bohn that he had had enough. Woods then revealed that he had been suffering with this ailment before he returned from his self-imposed absence following his sex scandal. He managed fourth place at The Masters last month.
"I've been playing with a bad neck for quite a while," he said before going for treatment and leaving amid heavy security. "They want me to go get a picture on it next week. I might have a bulging disc. I've been playing through it; I can't play through it any more. I'm having a hard time with the pain – there's tingling down my fingers."
He added that it was hurting him, "backswing, downswing, follow-through". Yet on Friday after he finished playing Woods was asked if he had any issues with his fitness. "No, zero. Absolutely 100 per cent," he responded.
However, the fact that he kept the problem quiet will not surprise those who heard him reveal at The Masters that, in his recovery from knee surgery in 2008, he tore an Achilles tendon and struggled with it for much of last season. Pulling out and dropping to last place as a result means that for the first time in his career he finished outside the top 30 in consecutive tournaments. Last week he missed the cut by a massive eight strokes at the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina. When he next plays remains to be seen: he has already entered for the US Open at Pebble Beach on 17-20 June but, if fit, he would be expected to defend his Memorial title at Muirfield Village in Ohio two weeks before that. The last time he withdrew during a round was as an amateur at the 1995 United States Open.
Bohn, after finishing his round with a triple bogey seven, said of Woods' withdrawal: "I had no idea and I was a little surprised when he came up and said he was done. But when I shook his hand and said 'take care' he looked as if he was in a lot of pain."