The re-emergence of Martin Kaymer on the world golf stage will long be remembered. Clinging to a one-shot lead and playing one of golf’s most feared closing holes the former world #1 golfer converted a 3 ½ foot par-putt to escape in no less than dramatic fashion than Harry Houdini in winning The Player’s Championship at TPC / Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL—the flagship event on the PGA Tour.
Kaymer’s final round at The Players Championship was a two-part tale. The first had the 29-year-old German hitting 12 of 14 greens in the regulation stroke—with three birdies against no bogies in the final 18—creating what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-stroke lead before a 93-minute rain delay brought action to a halt.
The caliber of Kaymer’s first 14 holes was flawless golf. The Kaymer that emerged was anything but.
Through a series of poor decisions and faulty executions, Kaymer lost two of his three-shot lead with a double-bogey at the par-4 15th. At the par-5 16th—what looked like a possible birdie became a struggling par-5.
Still maintaining a one-shot lead and heading to the penultimate hole with the dramatic water-surrounded par-3 17th Kaymer faced a pressure-packed moment that earlier looked to be a foregone conclusion.
His gap-wedge appeared to be fine before striking an elevated mound protecting the rear back right pin placement. The amount of spin propelled the ball backwards and without the saving grace of a rough cut the ball in all probability would have found the bottom of the water hazard that envelopes the putting surface.
Kaymer’s chip shot failed to clear an upslope and was left with a 28 ½ par-putt with no less than 10-feet of left-to-right break. It appeared likely the lead would be gone and he would need to par the final hole to secure a playoff with TPC-resident American Jim Furyk who fired a sterling 6-under-par 66.
Just as it appeared the crash would continue Kaymer stabilized the situation with a mind-boggling hole-out.
Still the deal was not finalized. The ending hole at TPC / Sawgrass features water hugging the left side—as close as any child hugging a parent prior to the first day of school. Kaymer hit a solid drive leaving 176 yards on his approach. The 2nd shot ended up just short of the green. As he had done at the par-5 16th Kaymer choose to putt from the fringe area and ran his birdie try past the hole—leaving just under 4 feet for the win. The victory putt was never in doubt—similar to what Kaymer had done at Medinah in the 2012 Ryder Cup Matches: closing out the American side with a par-putt at the 18th hole there.
Kaymer becomes just the fourth European golf star to win The Players Championship, joining the likes of Sandy Lyle, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia. The German finished the four round event with a 275 total and final round 71.
The win proved to be auspicious for Kaymer coming on Mother’s Day—his Mom had passed away a short time ago and even the stoic German showed a bit of emotion at a post-round interview immediately after closing out the victory.
For Kaymer the win moved him into the 18th position in the overall world rankings and it demonstrated the narrowness between the premier players from both sides of the Atlantic.
Kaymer’s chief challenger was the 20-year-old American firebrand—Jorden Spieth. Having challenged Masters winner Bubba Watson for a good bit of the final round at Augusta, Spieth appeared ready to elevate his standing in the golfing world with a win at The Players.
However, just as his final round play at The Masters was haphazard, his 4th round at TPC / Sawgrass simply broke down at critical moments with a series of bogies starting on the outward nine. The tale of Spieth was one of two players: the former shooting 133 for the first 36-holes—versus 145 for the final 36. The issue for Spieth is a learning curve—knowing how to close out the game’s biggest events. Nonetheless, his consistent play to get into the hunt regularly bodes well for him with three majors set to be played with the US Open at Pinehurst just on the horizon in June.
Six of the top ten finishers were from the European golf side with Spaniard Garcia claiming solo 3rd with a finishing birdie at the 18th hole. Sharing 4th place with Spieth was US Open Champion Justin Rose from England. Rory McIlroy earned a tie for 6th with a final-round 66 – joining him at that spot was American’s most consistent player thus far on the PGA Tour Jimmy Walker who had the day’s low round with a seven-under-par 65.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.