Justin Leonard claims THE PLAYERS Championship 1998 title

Justin Leonard


1998 Champion

Justin Leonard

United States | Score: 278

Player Profile


I knew this golf tournament was within reach

Justin Leonard

For the 25th anniversary of THE PLAYERS Championship, there was a financial milestone that grabbed players’ attention, a $4 million purse. But what enthralled the fans was something even richer, a human spirit.

It shined through not only as the winner, 25-year-old Justin Leonard, converted four birdies on the closing nine holes of THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, but just as bright when a pursuer, Len Mattiace, found the water twice and made a quintuple bogey at the par-3 island green.

There were wild cheers for Leonard’s brilliance — with a fourth-round, 5-under 67 to finish at 10-under 278, he won for the third time in nine months, each time overcoming a final-round deficit.

But so, too, was there passionate applause for Mattiace’s dignity — with his mother, Joyce, inflicted with lung cancer and watching from her wheelchair, the PGA TOUR veteran who went to high school just a few miles from the Stadium Course was one off the lead when he saw his dreams get rinsed at the 17th. His spirits crushed, Mattiace embraced his mother and faced the media after finishing joint fifth. “I gave myself a chance to win,” he said.

Golf at its best, anguish at its most personal. It was a combination that reminded the large galleries why THE PLAYERS and its one-of-a-kind Stadium Course was saturated in a showcase polish.

“I’ve been in this position a couple of times,” Leonard said after starting the final round two back. “I knew this golf tournament was within reach.”

More Leonard Articles

Past Champion: Justin Leonard, 1998

In what was the 25th edition of THE PLAYERS Championship, Justin Leonard, 25, produced what is perhaps the most astonishing finish in tournament history, fighting back on the closing nine to complete the biggest final-round comeback in PLAYERS history at TPC Sawgrass.


Justin Leonard's Historic Wins

Leonard birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine to overtake then-leader Mattiace, eventually finishing his round at 5-under 67, good enough for a 10-under total of 278 and one of the most unlikely victories in PLAYERS history.