THEY moved the clocks forward in the USA over the weekend. Lee Westwood was hoping to turn them back with another vintage display on the final day of The Players Championship. 

In the end, though, it was Justin Thomas who got his timing right at Sawgrass last night. At 27, and 20 years Westwood’s junior, Thomas put on his Sunday best to capture the PGA Tour’s flagship title.

“This was probably one of the best rounds of my life tee to green,” said an emotional Thomas after a closing four-under 68 for a 14-under aggregate left him one ahead of the brave Westwood.

The Englishman, runner-up a week ago at Bay Hill and the leader at Sawgrass after three rounds, had to settle for second again with Bryson DeChambeau and Brian Harman sharing third.

It had been a captivating three rounds prior to yesterday’s ding-dong denouement and Westwood’s canny, composed approach over those 54-holes had reaped considerable rewards. With his fiancée, Helen, on the bag, there had been a cheery nonchalance about the Westwood assault which had been punctuated by the kind of beaming grins you’d tend to get in a Colgate advert.

Westwood hadn’t dropped a shot in 44 holes during a wonderful exhibition of tee-to-green golf and, when he knocked his approach to the first yesterday to within five-feet for an opening birdie to move three clear, it was business as usual.

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And then things started to get decidedly hairy for both Westwood and DeChambeau. A drive into the trees from Westwood at the second led to a salvage operation which recovered a decent bogey in the circumstances before the fourth hole witnessed the kind of startling efforts you’d see at The Herald sports desk’s spring outing.

DeChambeau topped his drive and Westwood sliced his as they both made a right old hash of things. "Oh my gosh, what is going on?,” gasped DeChambeau on his way to a double bogey as he let out the kind of agonised wail that club golfers the world over shriek in regular abandon. Westwood, meanwhile, winkled out a bogey. It was reassuring stuff for us mere golfing mortals.

Over a front nine which featured more scrap than Steptoe’s yard, Westwood was still at the summit but the leaderboard was so congested, it was just about appearing on the travel and traffic updates on the local radio. Despite finding just three fairways and four greens in regulation, a birdie on the ninth for a one-over outward half left the Worksop man two clear of a sizeable chasing pack.

That was until Thomas upped the ante with considerable gusto, however. Playing in the match in front, his brace of birdies at nine and 10 had injected his campaign with vigour and a terrific eagle on the 11th propelled him to the front. It was a telling thrust and one that gathered even more driving momentum when the former US PGA champion birdied the 12th. Suddenly, Thomas was two ahead and it was Westwood who had to do the chasing. The Stadium Course was providing absorbing theatre.

What this game giveth, of course, it taketh away. Thomas, out of the blue, missed a seemingly routine short one for his par on the 14th and his lead was reduced to one. Even the pendulum didn’t know which way to swing.

Behind him, Westwood managed to capitalise on his rival’s lapse. He needed a bit of luck from those golfing gods, mind you. Westwood got a big break on the 14th and avoided the water before holing a tricky putt down the hill for a crucial birdie. The fist pump underlined the importance of the moment as Westwood moved level.

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Parity was fleeting. Thomas two-putted from 50-feet on the 16th to seize control again. With so much going on, we’d almost forgotten about DeChambeau. He made sure he was still in the thick of it, though, with a swashbuckling eagle on the 16th as the tension mounted. Westwood scrambled a par there while, up ahead, Thomas walked off the treacherous 17th with a spring in his step after a nerveless three.

His bold, slightly hooky drive on the 18th, which fluttered its eye lashes with the water, led to nails being nibbled. It was that kind of day.

Thomas was just about home and dry, because behind him Westwood three-putted the 17th. It was a crushing blow. Thomas would have the crowning glory.