Just when it looked like Martin Kaymer was about to crumble, he came up big on the famed par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass with one of the most clutch (yet improbable) par saves. (At least he didn’t hit it like a “wimp,” though.) The 29-year-old German struck a gap wedge up onto the island green and then it spun all the way back into the rough — just short of the water.
“I thought actually the tee shot, that was fine,” said Kaymer. “I was a little bit in between clubs, between wedge and gap wedge, but, under those circumstances, you take the shorter one and put a solid swing on it. I thought I did, but it was, I think, a yard short.”
From there, he had a bad lie and left the chip 28 feet short of the hole. It didn’t look good for Kaymer, especially with his lead over Jim Furyk, who was sitting comfortably in the clubhouse after firing a sizzling six-under 66, cut to just one stroke. With a massive left-to-right break, Kaymer rolled it in and followed it with a tenacious fist pump. It was EPIC.
“On 17 it was fairly dark already, so it was very, very tough to see the entire line, but I’ve done that — obviously I’ve made that putt in the practice rounds and you know it will break a lot,” said Kaymer in his post-round presser. “It was downhill, down-grain, but at the end of the day, you just trust your instinct. You pick a line approximately there and there. I think it was three, three and a half feet, left to right putt, but you need the right line and the right speed. So there’s always some luck involved.”
Luck or not, the momentum he gained from that putt was extremely significant. It saved Kaymer from blowing a three-shot lead over Furyk after a 90-minute inclement weather delay.
“Making a putt like this is more than big; I think I will realize it the next few days,” said Kaymer. “Making those putts in those situations is quite impressive, you know — 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.”
Then, Kaymer stepped up to the 18th tee and confidently striped his drive down the middle. All week, he talked about not playing like a “wimp” or being “soft.” Well, he certainly wasn’t one in the last two holes on Sunday with the tournament on the line.
Next, he caught an 8-iron a little heavy on his approach shot and left it just short of the green. From there, he putted it to three feet and drained the par putt for the outright win.
However, when he initially returned from the weather delay on the 15th tee, it appeared like the wheels were falling off for Kaymer, who had looked so strong all day, especially compared to his playing partner, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had a rough finish, posting a two-over 74 to ultimately drop to a share of fourth place.
Kaymer pulled his tee shot right out the gate on 15. He made a mess out of the hole and flubbed a flop shot into the bunker and ended up carding a double-bogey, which cut his lead to just one.
“It was a shame that we had to stop playing because I was playing really, really good at that stage and I played really solid. Hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, had good chances,” he said. “And then as always, it’s a little bit difficult when you come back out on the golf course.
“Hit a fairly poor tee shot on 15, didn’t give myself a chance to make 4 after the second shot because it was a bad pitch. And then on 16 I should have chipped that shot next to the green to give myself a better birdie chance. So I made a couple mistakes coming in. I need to admit that.”
It’s been a long road back to the winner’s circle in the United States for Kaymer, who hadn’t won here since he captured the 2010 PGA Championship. Following that, he triumphed at the 2010 KLM Open and the 2010 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He also won the 2011 Abu Dhabi Championship and the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions
Early that same year, he reached the no. 1 ranking in the world, but then he fell into a slump that lasted the past two-three years after enduring a swing change — which he decided to go through because he wanted to be able to hit a draw and was convinced he couldn’t contend at the Masters if he couldn’t move the ball right-to-left.
It’s safe to say that Kaymer has emerged from his decline to outside the top 50 in the world.
Despite his struggles the last few years, he always knew he’d be a champion again.
“I knew that I could win a golf tournament again,” said Kaymer. “It was not like that traumatic that a lot of people made it. But obviously a lot of people, they look for something that you don’t really feel, that you don’t really think is right, but it’s okay. But I knew I was doing the right thing, what I said earlier in the week. I just didn’t know it would take me that long, but it did. It proved that everything I did, even though it took a little bit longer.”
Added his caddie Craig Connelly: “(Martin) knows that he can draw the ball when he has to draw the ball and that’s what he’s going to do, he’s going to keep seeing that cut shot time and time again and when he has to hit it right to left, he’s going to do that.
“Absolutely (he’s a better player than he was)…and I think he appreciates the good times a lot more because he was pretty low, I’m sure he didn’t tell you, he was very low, but as I said, from Houston, three weeks after Doral in Houston, Martin came back, the old Martin. So…he’s a brand new Martin, I shouldn’t say the same old Martin, this is obviously a much improved golfer, so but the mindset is the old Martin. The golfer is better.”
The always pensive Kaymer also knows that his road to the winner’s circle at The Players was a learning lesson, too.
“Already reflecting on it, probably it will help me in the future,” he said. “So overall, obviously it was a successful day, but it was a very, very long week, and I just hope that we can continue today because from the first day on, there was a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, and even though I was trying to talk about it in a way that it was only the first day, only the second day, but somewhere deep down you hope that you can bring it home already because you play well and you hope that you can finish as high as possible, but obviously winning, I never really lost the lead, so you can only lose the tournament then once you lead.”
Now that he’s won the fifth biggest tournament of the year, what are his long-term goals?
“To improve more, even more now that I can hit those shots under all circumstances,” said Kaymer. On 16 it’s not the right thing to putt it. It’s a soft egg.
“You have to chip that one. Even if you’re not the best and not the greatest chipper, you’ve got to chip in. The worst you make is 5, but you’ve got to do it. Those things, it’s not so much the swing is all good. I’m happy the way that it works out and the way I go. Everything is fine, and I’m really happy about this. But those things, to really stick until the very, very end to your game plan, play with your heart, whatever happens happens, but at least you’re very true to yourself. On 16 I was not true to myself, and that’s painful. It really is because it’s just not right.
“But you can think I won the golf tournament, yeah, I should be happy, and I’m very, very happy about this, but those are things that I would like to improve for the future.”
After Kaymer holed out on 18, he fist-pumped and embraced Connelly — it was an emotional moment for both of them. Kaymer was so caught up in the moment that he forgot to pick up his ball, but Connelly didn’t.
“Yeah I pulled it out,” said Connelly, laughing. “Still got it. I’ll give him another one and keep that one. No flies on me!”