Johnson's 15-month reign came to an end after finishing tied for 17th at 10 under as US PGA Championship victor Thomas posted a final-round 66 to be 11 under alongside five others, including Tiger Woods.
'His driver was worn over the last few months and one of the most important things was finding a shaft and head combination that maximized distance and control, ' said Titleist Tour rep J.J. VanWezenbeeck.
The 14-time major victor fell a few feet short of providing the first real drama Sunday on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. "If it hadn't been for my faith, it would have been a lot harder", he said after he finished a dominant week at The Players with a four-stroke win. Saturday's performance was the latest positive sign for 42-year-old Woods, a two-times victor of the Players Championship, who is trying to regain sharpness after last year's successful spinal fusion. "I told him, 'Pretty inconsistent.' He asked me had I ever tried the claw grip, and I said no".
The first round started with one of the best threesomes in golf with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Rickie Fowler.
Simpson also alluded to golf's unerring ability to make a hero of a player who was bang average the week before, or call forward an all-time great who looked to be heading for the trap door. That was Tiger. Meanwhile, Mickelson and Fowler both miss the cut.
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Woods began the day tied for eighth, 11 strokes behind Simpson.
Woods took advantage of warm temperatures, soft greens and little wind by making birdies at three of the first four holes. The first challenge came from Woods, who was charging up the leaderboard, while the leader was still waiting his turn to get onto the course.
Australia's Jason Day bagged a share of fifth place with a 68 lifting him to 13 under. Webb received a message from his mother that she wanted him to win after her house may have caught on fire.
Day mixed two early birdies with a holed bunker shot for eagle at the ninth, but his surge fizzled with an even par back nine. If this is the Tiger we saw in the final two rounds then we will see him in the winner's circle in 2018 maybe a couple of times. He has subsequently moved up to 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking and 48th in the FedEx Cup.
Woods shot a seven-under 65 in the third round Saturday, besting his previous low score on the Stadium Course by a stroke. David Lee who had a final round pairing with Webb Simpson would struggle.
It had been 107 starts in a span of about 4 ¹/₂ years since Simpson's last win.