Rory McIlroy has won the Players Championship, beating 48-year-old Jim Furyk by one shot after a thrilling final round at Sawgrass.
The Northern Irishman’s two-under-par 70 gave him victory on 16 under.
It is his first win in a year and sets him up for an attempt at the career Grand Slam at the Masters next month.
“I feel like I’m playing some of the best golf of my life right now and I just need to keep doing the same things,” he told Sky Sports.
“If I hadn’t won today, I’d have said I didn’t need one going into Augusta but it’s nice to win on a course that will play similar to Augusta in a few weeks.”
McIlroy, 29, won the US Open in 2011, US PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014 and The Open in 2014 but is yet to win the Masters, which starts on 11 April and is live across the BBC.
He has finished in the top six of all his tournaments in 2019.
The Players Championship is known unofficially as the ‘fifth major’ and is the most prestigious of the regular PGA Tour events.
England’s Eddie Pepperell finished two behind McIlroy, tied third after a 66.
Pepperell holed a 50-foot putt on the 17th to briefly join McIlroy in a tie for the lead before the four-time major champion pulled clear with birdies on the 15th and 16th.
Overnight leader Jon Rahm fell away in the closing stages and finished on 11 under after a 76, while Tommy Fleetwood struggled to a 73.
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McIlroy shows his class after superb climax at Sawgrass
McIlroy is just the second Briton to win the Players Championship, following Sandy Lyle in 1987.
Lyle went on to win the Masters a year later but McIlroy will be targeting his first Green Jacket in less than four weeks after he finally claimed the tournament win which his consistent form in 2019 had been threatening.
However, the victory looked far from certain when he found the water on the par-four fourth, which led to a double-bogey six, as the leaders struggled to gain any early momentum in cold and damp conditions.
A McIlroy birdie on six was cancelled out by a bogey on the seventh but further birdies on the ninth and 11th moved him back to the front on a tightly packed leaderboard, which at one stage saw a five-way tie for the lead.
McIlroy picked up another shot on the short par-four 12th, briefly taking him into the outright lead.
However, Furyk, last year’s American Ryder Cup captain, overtook him with birdies on the 16th and 18th, having shaved the hole with another chance on the 17th, as he went round in 67.
The Northern Irishman had dropped back to 14 under after a bogey on the 14th but birdies on the 15th and 16th took him past Furyk, and he nervelessly secured the win on St Patrick’s Day with closing pars by avoiding water on the dangerous final two holes.
“This was one of the tournaments that I desperately wanted to win and get on my CV, added McIlroy, whose previous victory came at the Bay Hill Invitational on 18 March 2018.”
“It’s got the deepest field. There’s some unbelievable names on the trophy and I’m proud for my name to be among them.”
Second-placed Furyk, who only got into the event the previous Sunday as an alternate, has not won since 2015 and fell to 305 in the world golf rankings last year.
Fleetwood Rahm fade as Pepperell ‘feels like Seve’
The English challenge on the final day was supposed to come from Fleetwood but it was Pepperell, playing in his first Players Championship, who surged into contention by firing six birdies from the 11th up until that monster putt across the 17th.
A fine par save on the 18th gave him the clubhouse lead and he was joined on 14 under by Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas, who topped Pepperell’s putt by holing from 70 feet on the 17th.
Referencing the late golfing great Seve Ballesteros, the winner of five major championships between 1979 and 1988, Pepperell told Sky Sports: “I played terrible at times. I was useless with my three wood, which is normally my banker. I was great on the greens, though. I felt like Seve out there, to be fair.”
Fleetwood has elevated himself into the sport’s elite in the past two years, winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in 2017 and finishing second in last year’s US Open.
But a victory on the PGA Tour continues to elude him after a disappointing final round in Sawgrass, with an opening bogey five setting the tone.
Playing the par-five 16th at 12 under, four behind McIlroy, he looked out of contention but a stunning second shot to three feet set up an eagle that revived his hopes. They were quickly sunk when his tee shot into the island-green 17th plunged into the water. He ended tied fifth on 13 under, alongside world number one Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker, who both shot 69.
Playing alongside Fleetwood in the final group, Rahm fared worse. He dropped three shots in his opening four holes and although he got two of them back to regain a share of the lead, he bogeyed the 15th and double bogeyed the 17th to finish 11 under.
English world number two Justin Rose was a shot better off after a closing 68, while Tiger Woods ended six under after a 69.
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Reaction to McIlroy’s victory
Jack Nicklaus, 18-time major winner on Twitter: Nine years ago this month had opportunity to sit with winless 20-year-old Rory McIlroy and talk “patience”. Soon after, he shot a Sunday 62 at Quail Hollow for first PGA Tour win. Today Rory showed great discipline and patience down stretch to win the Players Championship! Very proud happy for him!
Open champion Francesco Molinari: Well done Rory McIlroy, no-one deserved it more with the way you’ve been playing this year. A fitting champion for the Players Championship.
2017 US PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas: Congrats to Rory McIlroy on a great win… silenced a lot of people today! Way to play bro.