Nobody has ever won back-to-back Players Championships at TPC Sawgrass, but it only took the first two editions of the APGA Tour's Billy Horschel Invitational — also played at TPC Sawgrass — for someone to successfully defend their title.
That someone was Willie Mack III.
The 33-year-old Flint, Michigan, native started the day in a three-way tie with Marcus Byrd and Wyatt Worthington. However, not making a bogey until No. 11 — his first of the tournament — Mack cruised to a four-stroke victory over Byrd and finished at 5-under 139.
“I enjoy this course and it is never easy winning against the competition out here on the APGA Tour,” Mack told the Florida Times-Union after his victory Friday.
Mack, the reigning APGA Player of the Year, took home $40,000 from the $125,000 purse — the most ever for a APGA event as the tour continues to grow its sponsors.
Horschel, who brought along many sponsors by hosting the tournament, noted that Mack's feat is a special one.
“Any time you get a chance to play here is one thing, but to say you’re a champion at TPC Sawgrass is special, now that he’s done it twice,” Horschel said. “[Mack] played absolutely beautifully. I told him I better not see him here again because he’s going to start the day with a four-shot deficit.”
Over the past few years, Mack and Horschel have formed a bond as the six-time PGA Tour winner has taken the initiative to help provide developmental opportunities to minority players.
“Billy and I have had a great relationship over the last year or two,” Mack said. “Personally, it means a lot to be able to count on him for advice. I think his name on this event and the support he has shown our tour and our guys opens up opportunities for all the other players to get sponsorships and gain experience on a PGA Tour course like TPC Sawgrass.”
Mack has plenty of experience in the professional game, but is still hungry for more. He's made hundreds of mini-tour starts and has five PGA Tour starts under his belt with two made cuts. His last Tour start came in November at Mayakoba, where he missed the cut, but just before that, he was two shots short of getting through the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying.
However, with the victory at Horschel's event, Mack earned a spot in the KFT's BMW Charity Pro-Am in early June.
“Don’t get me wrong, the purse and the winner’s check are amazing,” Mack said. “But the Korn Ferry exemption means more than money. It’s an opportunity for me to go out and play well and work my way on to that tour this year.”
And maybe, that's the first step in Mack one day notching a spot in The Players and using his TPC Sawgrass confidence to his advantage.