Ponte Verde Beach - South African Tim Clark finally ended eight frustrating years of close calls on the PGA Tour by charging past overnight leader Lee Westwood to win his maiden title at the Players Championship on Sunday.
An electrifying run of five birdies in six holes around the turn put Clark a stroke in front of the chasing pack on a treacherous day for scoring at the TPC Sawgrass.
He coolly parred the last six holes for a flawless five-under-par 67 and a 16-under total of 272 to triumph by one shot in the tournament widely considered the "fifth major" by the players.
Australian Robert Allenby birdied two of the last five holes for a 70 to finish second while world number four Westwood had to settle for a tie for fourth at 12-under after dumping his tee shot into water at the 17th en route to a 74.
US Open champion Lucas Glover covered the back nine in a scintillating five-under for a closing 70 and third place at 14-under.
Clark, a perennial bridesmaid on the US circuit who had finished runner-up eight times in 205 career starts, fired the day's lowest round for his long-awaited breakthrough.
"It has been a long time on this tour ... I just hoped it would happen one day," the 34-year-old South African told reporters with a broad smile. "I came out today and showed what I can do on the golf course.
"That's as good as I could have played. The course is that demanding that I just couldn't let up and I had to concentrate on every shot."
For much of a sun-splashed afternoon with the greens running fast and firm, Westwood and Allenby appeared to be duelling for the tournament in the final pairing.
The Australian, who spectacularly eagled the par-five second when he chipped in from greenside rough, twice edged ahead before the Englishman regained control with an outward nine of one-under 35.
Clark, who had started the final round three strokes behind Westwood, was meanwhile steadily chipping away at the lead.
He launched his sizzling birdie run by knocking in a 10-footer at the seventh and then coaxed in an 18-footer at the ninth to trail by two.
The South African, a three-times winner on the European Tour, picked up further shots at the 10th and 11th before draining another 18-footer at the 12th, where he dropped to his knees in relief, to take the outright lead for the first time.
Although he narrowly missed a five-foot birdie putt at the par-five 16th for a three-shot cushion, he kept his cool and nervelessly sank an eight-footer to save par on the 18th.
Westwood slipped further back with a bogey at the 14th after he missed the fairway well right off the tee. His title bid effectively ended when his tee shot at the par-three 17th ended up in water just short of the island green.
"I didn't play very good over the weekend," said Westwood, who had been seeking his first PGA Tour victory in 12 years. "As the course toughened up, I wasn't striking the ball solidly enough and didn't really get many chances."
Phil Mickelson, who would have replaced Tiger Woods with victory on Sunday, began the day five strokes off the pace and ended it nine adrift after battling to a topsy-turvy 74.
"The course conditions were very difficult, exactly what I needed to be able to try to make a run at the leaders," said the American left-hander, champion here in 2007. "Unfortunately I didn't take advantage of it."
Woods created a stir earlier in the day when he withdrew from the tournament after completing six holes of his final round, citing a painful neck.
"I've been playing with a bad neck for quite a while," said Woods who was playing in only his third event since his private life unravelled at the end of last year amid allegations of marital infidelities. "I can't play through it any more."
272 - Tim Clark (RSA) 68-71-66-67
273 - Robert Allenby (AUS) 66-70-67-70
274 - Lucas Glover 70-65-69-70
276 - Davis Love 69-68-71-68
Heath Slocum 67-66-72-71
Ben Crane 67-69-68-72
Lee Westwood (GBR)
277 - Francesco Molinari (ITA) 68-65-71-73
279 - Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 69-70-69-71
Andres Romero (ARG)
Chris Stroud 70-69-66-74
280 - JB Holmes 66-72-72-70
Scott Verplank 71-70-69-70
John Rollins 68-69-70-73
281 - Phil Mickelson 70-71-66-74
283 - Graeme McDowell (NIR) 72-65-72-74
Adam Scott (AUS)
Luke Donald (GBR) 67-69-72-75
285 - Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 70-68-73-74
KJ Choi (KOR)
Greg Chalmers (AUS) 70-69-70-76
Martin Kaymer (GER)
286 - James Nitties (AUS) 70-72-72-72
Rory Sabbatini (RSA)
Ryuji Imada (JPN) 67-66-76-77
288 - Sergio Garcia (ESP) 69-70-71-78
289 - Oliver Wilson (GBR) 70-70-70-79
290 - Stephen Ames (CAN) 70-71-79-71
Alex Cejka (GER)
293 - Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 72-70-75-76
296 - Robert Karlsson (SWE) 71-69-77-79
Tiger Woods 70-71-71-WD