Kaymer shows heart, closes out Players win
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – All week long, Martin Kaymer tried to play by instinct, none more so than when he trusted the line he learned in his practice round on a 28-foot downhill, par putt that curled in at the 17th green.
That crucial putt allowed the German to survive a shaky finish and hold off a fast-charging Jim Furyk for a one-shot victory at The Players. Kaymer closed with a 1-under-par 71 for a 72-hole total of 275.
“The last few holes, it was not about how good I play or how bad I play, it’s about how much you want to win,” Kaymer said. “How much do you want to bring it home the last three or four holes?”
Kaymer showed a lot of heart. Earlier in the week he talked about the difference between playing bravely and like a wimp. When asked the German word for wimp, Kaymer answered, “Weichei. It’s a soft egg.”
Kaymer had won a major, holed the clinching putt at a Ryder Cup, achieved World No. 1 and won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai all before turning 30. Yet for the last few years, the 29-year-old had many wondering what had happened to his game.
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In an effort to learn to shape the ball from right-to-left, Kaymer had lost control of his stock fade. His game was a shell of its former self. His critics hoped that Nicolas Colsaerts would leapfrog Kaymer into the eighth and final automatic berth on the European team so Jose-Maria Olazabal could save a captain’s pick for a player in better form. When Kaymer and Justin Rose were routed in a Friday four-ball match, Olazabal benched Kaymer.
“It was like the kid at the schoolyard not getting picked for the team,” Kaymer’s caddie, Craig Connelly said.
Ever since, Kaymer has pounded balls in search of his once dependable swing. His belief, he said, never wavered.
“I knew I was doing the right thing,” he said, “I just didn’t know it would take me that long, but it did.”
To Connelly, his swing began firing on all cylinders at the Shell Houston Open.
“The old Martin was back,” he said.
Early in the final round, Jordan Spieth wrestled the lead away from Kaymer at the fourth hole. But after 58 holes without a bogey, Spieth bogeyed three of the next six holes and finished with a 74. Kaymer opened a four-stroke lead with a birdie at the par-5 11th, but it was a daring 9-iron at 13 aimed at the pin tucked on the lower level near the water that illustrated his bravery. The shot landed 6 feet from the hole.
“That gave me so much momentum for the next few holes, and then they called it,” Kaymer said.
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Furyk, who birdied 16 to trim the lead to three, had to wait through a 91-minute weather delay to make his 3-foot par putt and complete his round of 66 for what amounted to his second straight runner-up.
Kaymer had been sleeping on at least a share of the lead since opening with a course record-tying 63 Thursday and admitted he hadn’t been sleeping well. The only thing tougher for a leader than waiting for his starting time is waiting out a weather suspension.
“It was a little sad that we had to stop,” Kaymer said.
After the delay, Kaymer hit only one of the last four greens in regulation. The trouble started when Kaymer hooked his tee shot into the trees and made double bogey at 15. Then on the par-5 16th, he chose to putt from Bermuda rough from 57 feet off the green and left himself a 34-foot birdie putt.
“It’s a soft egg,” he said later. “You have to chip that one.”
Kaymer walked off with par and headed to the dangerous 129-yard, island-green par 3. Between clubs, Kaymer selected a gap wedge and aimed over the bunker. His ball barely cleared it and spun hard to the left, nearly rolling into the water. Only the thick Bermuda collar saved Kaymer from disaster. But Kaymer did himself no favor, duffing his chip to set up the fateful 28-foot par putt.
“I think it was 3 to 3 1/2 feet (of break), left-to-right putt; but you need the right line and the right speed,” he said. “So there’s always some luck involved.”
Clinging to a one-shot lead, Kaymer fatted an 8-iron from the fairway on 18. With memories of his winning putt at the 2012 Ryder Cup dancing in his head, Kaymer chose putter from 45 feet short of the green.
“I thought, you know, you only need two putts like two years ago at Medinah,” he said.
His first effort trickled 4 feet past the hole. There was work still to be done.
“When I was standing over the putt I just thought, 'It would be really nice to make that putt now. Would be a very nice way to finish,' ” Kaymer said.
When it dropped, he looked skyward, pumped his fist, and hugged his caddie. He was a champion again. The Players champion.