PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Martin Kaymer thought his gap wedge to the island green on the 17th hole at The Players Championship was fine. He couldn’t believe it when he realized it had bounced sideways and spun so hard that it wound up in the shaggy collar, a foot away from going into the water.
That one shot summed up the final hour of Kaymer’s remarkable victory Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass.
There was stress and surprise around every corner, not the least of which was Kaymer saving par with a 30-foot putt on the 17th hole that sped down a slope, turned right and rolled into the middle of the cup. That carried him to a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk, the first trophy for the 29-year-old German since the end of 2012.
He putted from short of the 18th green to 3 feet, rapped that in for another par and closed with a 1-under 71.
But it was that par on the 17th that will be the signature moment of a peculiar week at Sawgrass.
“I thought it was actually a good golf shot, maybe 2 feet short,” Kaymer said. “I don’t know. That’s the way it looked from the tee box. Yeah, I was very surprised it was not even on the green. Yeah, I look forward to seeing the 17th hole in general. It was a very strange way to make a 3.”
It was a finish Kaymer could not have imagined.
Jordan Spieth began The Players by going 58 holes without a bogey, only to make five in the next 11 holes and miss another opportunity at a big event. He shared the 54-hole lead at the Masters and The Players and watched someone else leave with the trophy.
Furyk was the runner-up for the second straight week, both times from the locker room. He closed with a 66 – waiting 90 minutes through a storm delay before he could return to tap in for par on the 18th, and then another hour to see if his 12-under 278 would be enough to catch Kaymer, or at least force a playoff.
Kaymer, who looked so finely tuned all week, was a changed man after the rain delay. He hardly missed a shot and built a three-shot lead, only to return from the break and leave his thinking cap back in the clubhouse at Sawgrass.
A bad tee shot and an even worse chip led to a double bogey on the 15th hole, and suddenly his lead was down to one shot. In position to make birdie at the par-5 16th, he chose the safe – nervous, in this case – play with a putter up the slope of the green and had to two-putt from 35 feet just to make par.
And on the 17th, his situation was so dire that he kept telling himself he still had the 18th – where the hole location was in a favorable spot for birdies – to win the next best thing to a major. Instead, the German who keeps so calm let loose a fist pump that would have made Tiger Woods proud when his 30-footer dropped for par.
“Making a putt like this is more than big,” said Kaymer, who finished at 13-under 275. “I think I will realize it the next few days. Making those putts in those situations is quite impressive. It gives me a lot of belief and a lot of confidence that I can make those putts. I’ve done it in the past, and today again. It’s a great feeling.”
It felt even greater to realize how far he had come.
Kaymer was a rising star who reached the top when he won the 2010 PGA Championship, ascended to No. 1 in the world six months later, and then felt he needed to retool his swing to learn a draw. He felt he was a one-dimensional player.
He went a year between victories from the 2011 HSBC Champions to the 2012 Nedbank Challenge. He went 29 tournaments over 18 months before his next win Sunday at Sawgrass, and the satisfaction came from having spent so many hours on the range that he could stop thinking about the swing and just play naturally.
From his record-tying 63 in the opening round, he never fell out of the lead except for one hole on Sunday. It was a win of a guy who knows how to close.
Furyk did his part with a 66, even though it wasn’t enough. He still picked up $1.08 million and goes to No. 5 in the Ryder Cup standings.
As for Spieth?
He lost four shots in four holes to Kaymer around the turn and never caught up. It stung even more to realize that his 6-foot birdie putt on No. 4 put him at 14 under, and Kaymer’s winning score was 13 under.
“I’m stinging right now,” Spieth said. “It’s not fun being that close and having opportunities and being in the lead on Sunday and not pulling it off.”
Kaymer was all smiles. He had the trophy. He won $1.8 million from the richest purse on the PGA Tour. And he made a par no one will forget anytime soon.