PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It took five days for The Players Championship to resemble a major. Fred Funk had to wait even longer to show he's a big-time player.
A former college golf coach and career grinder, Funk delivered clutch shots over the water and the only par putt that mattered, a 5-footer on the final hole that gave him a one-shot victory Monday in the toughest round the TPC at Sawgrass has ever had.
"I can't believe it," Funk said, choking back tears. "I didn't fathom this happening."
He closed with a 1-under 71, then had to wait until Luke Donald missed a 20-foot birdie putt from just off the green before celebrating the seventh -- and by far the biggest -- victory of his career.
Funk, 48, became the oldest winner of The Players Championship with a final round that aged him even more, with conditions that were tougher than most majors because of 35 mph wind.
He had three-putt bogeys on consecutive holes to lose a two-shot lead. He got it back with a bold 3-iron from 234 yards that narrowly cleared the water on the par-5 16th and set up a two-putt birdie. He found land on the island-green 17th, a victory in itself, only to three-putt for another bogey.
And after a bold tee shot over the water and a bad shot into the bunker on the 18th, he saved par with a 5-foot putt that ultimately spared this wacky week from stretching into a sixth day.
"Yes!" Funk screamed out as the putt disappeared, giving a quick thrust of his fist and slamming his cap to the ground.
Funk finished at 9-under 279 and earned $1.44 million from the richest purse on the PGA Tour, nearly three times as much as his previous largest paycheck.
Without that putt, it could have been a four-way playoff with no daylight remaining.
Scott Verplank, who earlier Monday watched best friend Bob Tway take a 12 on the par-3 17th, watched in disbelief as his 10-foot par putt caught the left lip on the 18th. He shot 70, one shot behind.
Donald, the 54-hole leader, recovered from a 40 on the back nine and had a chance to force a playoff until his putt up the slope and down toward the hole stayed slightly to the left. He closed with a 76.
Funk became third player to win before a home crowd at The Players Championship, joining Mark McCumber in 1988 and David Duval in 1999. He was followed around by a group of friends called "Funk's Punks," and he kept them on the edge of their seats.
"I never made anything easy on myself," Funk said.
Nothing has come easy for a guy who once coached at the University of Maryland until deciding to give the PGA Tour a try. He had won six times on tour, but always against weaker fields -- two victories were opposite-field events; two others are no longer on the PGA Tour schedule.
He was criticized last year for skipping the British Open and instead playing the B.C. Open, with hopes of earning Ryder Cup points.
But he showed plenty of spunk at Sawgrass by beating the strongest and deepest field in golf, playing 32 holes Monday on a course that was the hardest it has ever been.
The wind was the strongest since the tournament moved in 1982 from Sawgrass Country Club across the street and next to the ocean. It nearly blew flagsticks out of the hole, swept sand from the bunker and produced the highest final-round scoring on the Stadium Course.
There were 16 rounds in the 80s, more than two dozen balls in the water on the island-green 17th and never a dull moment during a marathon Monday.
With so much attention on the Big Four at the start of the tournament, none finished in the top 10.
Vijay Singh was within four shots of the lead until he three-putted from 8 feet for a double bogey on No. 15. He closed with a 72 and tied for 12th, enough to retain his No. 1 ranking by finishing ahead of Tiger Woods.
Woods tied for 53rd by shooting a 75. Phil Mickelson dropped out of contention with two balls into the water on the 17th in morning, and another one in the afternoon. He shot 75 and tied for 40th.
Ernie Els started his day with a double bogey and a triple bogey, but closed with a 69 to tie for 17th.
Defending champion Adam Scott had a 73 to tie for eighth, four shots behind.
Already bizarre because of the rain, The Players Championship got downright wicked in sunshine. The most fearsome element of all is the wind, and that showed up with a vengeance.
As expected, some players paid dearly.
Tway was only four shots out of the lead late in the third round when he dumped four ball into the water on the island-green 17th and took a 12, the highest score ever on the infamous par 3. Two of those shots from the drop area landed on the front of the green and spun off.
Lee Westwood was only three shots out of the lead until playing his final five holes of the third round in 8 over par, including a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 17th.
Donald recovered from a double bogey on the 14th to take a one-shot lead into the final round. He had only 15 minutes to grab lunch, and his lead was gone even quicker than that.
The lead changed four times in the first four holes, and everyone else strapped in and tried to survive, just like they do at most majors.