With remarkable cool that has become his trademark, Duval birdied the treacherous 17th island hole to secure a two-stroke victory over Scott Gump and finally enable him to topple Tiger Woods in the world rankings.
Duval closed with a 1-over 73 to finish at 285, the highest winning score in the Players since it moved to the TPC at Sawgrass in 1982. Gump hit in the water and took double bogey on the par-3 17th, but birdied the 18th to finish at 287.
Nick Price was third at 288. Fred Couples had the best round of the day, a 4-under 68 that he finished before Duval even reached the second green. That shot Couples from a tie for 40th into a tie for fourth with Hal Sutton at 289.
Duval's victory came just two hours after his father Bob won the Emerald Coast Classic on the Senior Tour, making them the first father-son combination to win tour-sanctioned events on the same day.
"This means the world to me," Duval said. "It has turned into a dream year already, and it's only March."
The victory only confirmed Duval as the world's best player, and what a place for the coronation.
Duval grew up near the TPC at Sawgrass, even played as a marker when he was 18. Cheers greeted him at every turn, and while he left the galleries holding their breath at times, he pulled through for the biggest win of his career.
"I've got to thank you all," Duval said to the crowd. "I don't know if I could have done it without you. I felt the vibes, and it was a wonderful day."
Woods, who could have kept his No. 1 ranking by finishing sixth, made a bogey on the last hole for a 75 to finish at 3-over 291, tied for 10th. He had been No. 1 for 65 weeks, including the last 41 in a row.
"To win a big one like this, he deserves to be No. 1 in the world," Woods said.
Duval becomes just the third player to ascend to No. 1 without having won a major. Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples were both No. 1 right before they won the Masters.
"Why don't you give him the green jacket," a fan cried out during the trophy presentation on the 18th green.
Duval's 10th victory in his last 33 tournaments did not come easily, nor was it expected. The Stadium Course was set up like a major, with the nasty rough of a U.S. Open and supersonic greens like Augusta National, even though they put additional water on them overnight.
What Duval may have lacked in emotion was made up for with three shots that shook the Stadium Course.
He was tied for the lead at 2-under and facing the prospect of his fourth bogey of the front nine when he holed a bunker shot to take the lead for good.
Three holes later, he knocked in a 15-foot putt from off the green to get to 4-under. When Sctt Hoch failed to save par up ahead on the 13th, Duval had a three-stroke lead.
That proved to be important, because not even Duval was immune from dropping shots on a course that played 3.4 strokes over par. And it loomed even larger when Gump birdied the 18th to get to 1-under.
Duval missed the green at No. 14 and had to make a 6-footer to save bogey. On the next hole, he failed to save par from a bunker. His lead was down to one stroke when he stepped to the 17th, the hole that drowns so many hopes.
With a wedge in his hand and ice in his veins, Duval was impervious to the pressure. The ball descended from a brilliant blue sky into 6 feet and he made the birdie. A chip to within a foot on the 18th set off the celebration.
Duval won $900,000, which pushes his season earnings to just more than $2.1 million. That's about $500,000 shy of what he won all of last year.
It also completed a hat trick of the PGA Tour's three most elite events the winners-only Mercedes Championship, the Tour Championship for the top 30 money-winners, and The Players Championship, traditionally the best field on tour.
This year's field was the third-strongest in golf this decade, and it seemed only fitting that a new No. 1 would emerge from the pack.
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