Justin Leonard claims THE PLAYERS Championship 1998 title

THE PLAYERS 1998: 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.”

“I knew this golf tournament was within reach.” - Justin Leonard