World number one Rory McIlroy was left to rue a poor putting display as Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia battled in search of a second Players Championship title at Sawgrass.
McIlroy missed numerous birdie chances as he carded a closing 70 to finish eight under par alongside another member of Europe’s victorious team from Gleneagles, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who recorded an excellent 67.
That was four behind clubhouse leader Rickie Fowler who roared home over the back nine in just 31 shots to post 12 under par.
Garcia recovered from a poor start to move into contention as the so-called “fifth major” headed for a tense climax.
Garcia, who had snapped his putter in half after a second round of 72 on Friday, bounced back with a 67 on Saturday but found himself three off the pace when he bogeyed the first hole in the final round.
However, the 35-year-old birdied the second, fourth, fifth and sixth to move into a two-shot lead on 11 under before American trio Ben Martin, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Kisner closed the gap to a single shot.
Martin did so by bouncing back from a front nine of 37 with birdies on the 10th and 11th, while Fowler made his move in spectacular fashion by hitting a fairway wood to the par-five 16th which finished just inches from the hole to set up a tap-in eagle.
McIlroy, who carded three birdies and one bogey in his final round, told Sky Sports: “Obviously I was looking to go out there today and shooting something in the mid-60s that would have given me a chance.
“I felt like I gave myself enough opportunities out there to make some putts and just couldn’t.
“The putter let me down this week, even from the first day I could not come to terms with the greens and that’s the story of the week.”
By the time the leaders teed off, Tiger Woods had long since finished a final round of 72 which left the 14-time major winner three over par and joint 69th of the 75 players to make the cut.
However, the 39-year-old was looking to take the positives from completing just his second full tournament of the year after a career-worst 82 in the first, an injury withdrawal in the second and a share of 17th in the Masters.
“It was a mixed bag pretty much all week,” Woods told reporters after a round containing a hat-trick of birdies from the 10th but also a triple bogey on the 14th.
“A lot of really, really good stuff out there, some mediocre and some bad.
“It can turn quick here. You can be going along, playing fine, all of a sudden make a double here and it’s like, ‘What just happened?’. It’s just the nature of this golf course.
“We’re progressing. Let’s just keep progressing, keep putting the pieces together, keep chipping away at it ...
“We had some glaring weaknesses at the beginning of the year.
“Those are now gone, and now we can start cleaning up some other stuff, too.”
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington closed out his round with a five under par 67 that moved him inside the top 50.
Graeme McDowell’s slow season continued as he carded a final round one under 71 that saw him finis the tournament on even power.
Shane Lowry missed the cut while Darren Clarke’s tournament was cut short by a wrist injury.