Martin Kaymer becomes the first European to win on TOUR in the 2013-14 season as he fired a final round 71 to win THE PLAYERS Championship on 13-under-par 275. His 42’ two-putt from just off the 18th green saw him avoid a playoff with Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk. Spaniard Sergio Garcia finished one further shot back on 11-under 277 to claim third alone.
What was billed as a two-man race between co-54-hole leaders Martin Kaymer and Jordan Spieth turned into a duel between a man and his golf game. Kaymer, holding on to a three-shot lead with just an hour of daylight remaining, made some wonderfully bad and great shots in his final four holes. A flawless first 14 holes saw Kaymer see off his closest challengers as Spieth found the bogey train and couldn’t get off. The rest of the field had run out of holes or couldn’t hole any putts. But, after 93-minute rain delay, the wheels almost came off for the now 12-time winner worldwide. A double bogey on No. 15 after a handful of questionable shots shrank his lead to one over Jim Furyk. On 16, the third-easiest hole of the week, he could only manage a par on the five-par hole.
And then he took the walk to No. 17.
Standing on the tee with a one-shot lead, Kaymer did almost the unthinkable. His tee shot skipped off a mound above the front bunker, hit the middle of a ridge and spun wildly back towards the water. The rain delay that killed Kaymer’s momentum saved his life as the moisture from the heavens created just enough friction to cause his ball to stay on the green instead of finding the drink.
Problem No. 1 adverted.
Problem No. 2 was just beginning. His shot, while on dry land, was in the collar in the front, left part of the kidney-shaped green. His route to the traditional Sunday pin placement involved a huge ridge to carry and then downhill to the hole. He left his second shot 28 feet short. With a one-shot lead. On Sunday. Somehow, someway, as darkness was approaching, the German played six feet of downhill break perfectly and holed the putt for par. Can you believe it?
His final tee ball, just like the majority of them on the week, was piped down the center and while his second came up just short, he still found the nerve, one more time, to hole the final four-footer. His chances that were vanishing like the rescinding daylight came full circle as he holed his last four feet of putts for his second title on TOUR.
Kaymer opened the week with a course-record tying 63 on Thursday and never looked back. Much was made of young Spieth’s streak of 59 holes without a bogey on the week but the champion only made four. He was T3 in GIR and 19 in strokes gained-putting so there was plenty to like about the 2010 PGA winner’s game this week. Remember, he was the Euro who made the winning putt in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medina and he won the PGA in a three-hole playoff so pressure to him was nothing new.
Season-long gamers know that Kaymer has never been one for their lineups as he’s been splitting time between the TOUR and the European Tour. Last year’s 17 starts were the most he’s ever played in the States. His success in majors, WGC and the Ryder Cup are well documented but what gets swept under the rug is how well he plays in Europe. Last year was the first year since 2007 that he didn’t win anywhere in the world. There are not many guys who can brag on that who are under 30.
His name came up in the chat on Wednesday afternoon and both Rob Bolton and I suggested that he could be in play this week as his quiet 2014 was rounding into shape. This “week” is the key because his value in long-term games is quite muted due to his limited schedule. Kaymer has now seen the weekend in all six of his tries at Sawgrass and none better than this. I couldn’t burn him this week in OAD because I had already cashed with him (T8) in China at the WGC-HSBC. Incidentally, that was his last top 10 on TOUR before his victory. Speaking of top 10s, Kaymer has racked up 12 top 10s since 2009 but only two of them, today’s win and T5 at the 2013 HPBNC are the only two not in majors or WGC events. His only two TOUR wins are the 2010 PGA and 2014 PLAYERS. #biggamehunter
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see where Kaymer’s career goes now that he’ll exempt for the next two years on TOUR. It feels like he’s been around forever but that’s because of his decorated amateur career and his explosion to world No.1 after winning the 2010 PGA Championship but let’s all remember that he doesn’t turn 30 until December.
With his victory, collects $1,800,000, 600 FedExCup Points, a three-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and entry into the 2014 PGA Championship in addition to the last two WGC events and the HTOC. Oh, and he’s eligible for THE PLAYERS for the next five seasons. Don’t forget he also gets FIVE years on TOUR as well! #chaching
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won 20 of 26 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson (TWO), Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes have added trophies for the USA. Matt Jones, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and Jason Day, all Australians, have cashed four victories along with South Korean Seung-yul Noh. After querying about the lack of Euro winners this season, Kaymer decides to break the duck by winning the biggest payday of them all!
S.Y. Noh, Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley and Matt Jones are the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year and we’ve had seven in 26 events so far in 2014.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. I’m always trying to figure out if this is a trend or not. In 2013-14, 14 of 25 leaders have gone on to win on Sunday as Kaymer and Spieth were co-leaders. I’ll always give credit to the winner for winning in this stat. Hey, it’s my rule!
Kaymer is the eight international player in the last 13 years to hoist the crystal trophy.
He is the seventh player all-time to go wire-to-wire with the lead or share of the lead in all four rounds.
During his 63 on Thursday, Kaymer set the front-nine record with 29. #golowson
There still has never been a repeat champion at THE PLAYERS since it moved to TPC Sawgrass.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. He has been joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson (35), joined them at Riviera. Matt Every (30), Steven Bowditch (30) and Matt Jones (33), all first-timers, flew the flag before Watson picked up victory No. 2 of the year at Augusta. Since the first major, Matt Kuchar (37) and J.B. Holmes (32) have also added to the Prime Timers.
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) Seung-Yul Noh (22) all welcome Martin Kaymer, 29, to the twenty-something party!
Australian John Senden, 42, won at Tampa Bay for the only W for the “Old Guys” this season. For the second week in a row Jim Furyk needed the leader to miss a four-footer on the final hole to get into a playoff. He’s playing awfully well for an “old” guy. Another solid “oldie”, Lee Westwood, 41, continued his steady play with a T6 as well.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10
Jim Furyk: With one of the best rounds on Sunday, 66, Furyk was believing that a playoff might be necessary after his three-footer on No. 18 gave him the clubhouse lead at 12-under. There were no smoke or mirrors in Furyk’s game this week as he was T13 in fairways, second in GIR and sixth SGP. His bogey-free 66 saw him finish solo second for the second week in a row. He has now hit the top seven in five of his last eight events so any thoughts on him being “old” or “washed-up” have been greatly and stupidly, exaggerated. This was his fourth top 10, and best finish, in 19 starts here.
Sergio Garcia: The Spaniard began the day one shot off the lead as he looked to add to his 2008 title but for the second year in a row the waters on TPC Sawgrass had their say on Sunday. Last year he rinsed two on No. 17 and one on No. 18 and this year it was on the par-five 11th. His second from the pine straw wasn’t even close and a potential birdie hole turned into a bogey hole. Nevertheless, Garcia exacted his revenge on No. 18 with birdie this year to claim solo third and his fifth, top 10 finish in 15 tries on a course gamers all know he loves. His successes, not surprisingly, were a direct result of his excellent ball-striking (T17 fairways; T7 GIR) and timely putting (18TH putts per gir). He’s an AUTOMATIC SELECTION on this track and should have been in everyone’s lineup this week.
Jordan Spieth: #SpiethBoner keeps cranking out fantastic results on some of the hardest golf courses in the world even though he’s never played them in TOUR competition before. He’s 20. He was the co-54-hole leader at Augusta and Sawgrass. He’s 20. He didn’t make a bogey for 59 holes this week. That does NOT count his final 14 holes at Harbour Town his last time out. He’s 20. Sure, he didn’t close the door but I can’t possibly be upset about that. He was T2 in pars with 52. He was T2 with only five bogeys made. He was T6 in fairways. He’s “lost” to MAJOR CHAMPIONS his last two times when tied for the lead on Sunday. That’s hardly the end of the world. Is his swing a little loose at times? Yes. Is his putter a little aggressive at times? Sure. Is he going to win a SHITLOAD of golf tournaments down the road? Hell and yes. For those of you prescient enough to load up on him after he won $3.8 million in 23 events last year, he’s already pocketed $3.1 in 14 events this year.
Justin Rose: As it was adroitly pointed out in the chat on Wednesday, I omitted Rose from my preview column due to crappy editing/cut-pasting by yours truly but I did have him in my Yahoo! line up. For those of you who read this column religiously, and I thank you, know that Rose is one of my favorites. After his T14 at Augusta he’s rattled off T8, fifth and now T4 in his last three outings. The 2013 U.S. Open champ is in fantastic form and even had the rub of the green this week with a two-shot penalty being erased from his scorecard before his final round. He took full advantage of the rebirth and racked up six birdies against three bogeys for 69 on Sunday and T4.
Jimmy Walker: After opening up with 75 on Thursday many folks probably wrote off the Texan a bit too soon. As I told you earlier in the week, Walker has 11 of 14 career rounds under par on this track so his comeback was hardly shocking. His season of firsts continues and his train shows no signs of slowing down as he put up his best finish ever at Sawgrass with T6. As usual, Walker had problems finding fairways (T65) but NO problems finding greens (T9) or putting (FIRST in putts per GIR; 12th SGP). Many players complained about how they couldn’t score when they were in the rough off the tee this week. Walker was not included in that bunch! In 16 events he’s made 14 cuts and 13 of those have resulted in a top 25. He backed up his Masters T8 with MC at WFC but he’s right back on it with T6 this week. He’s right back on that horse! #giddyup
Rory McIlroy: For the second week in a row he barely makes the cut and for the second week in a row he has a huge weekend to hit the top 10. In four tournaments this spring, he’s fired 65, 69, 70 and 66 on Sunday. In his last two tournaments he’s played the weekend in nine-under. He destroyed the back nine at Sawgrass this week (31, 31, 32 and 33), led the field in birdies with 25 but it was 12 bogeys and two doubles that saw his quest end at T6. I argued earlier in the week that if he made anything this week he would contend. He was T6 in putts per GIR. Another reminder that in seven starts in 2014, five of them have gone for T8 or better. Another reminder that his worst finish, T25 at Doral, was the time I used him in OAD. #lovehaterelationship
David Hearn: I guess I went with the wrong Canadian who finished T26 last year in his second start. That’s where the comparisons ended with Hearn and Graham DeLaet this week. He only made four bogeys (T1) and racked up 52 pars (T2) en route to his third top 10 in Florida this season. He must like hard courses because those top 10s come at Honda, Valspar and now THE PLAYERS. All of the courses require solid driving of the golf ball. #trend. Entering the week, he MC in two of five events and had finishes of T52, T34 and T44 in the weeks he played Saturday and Sunday. With almost $900k he looks to be safe for 2015 so he might be a cheeky roster filler down the road as the pressure won’t be on him!
Lee Westwood: After killing plenty of gamers at WFC last week, Westwood was back to his old self at THE PLAYERS this week as his T6 should have surprised nobody. This is his third top eight in his last four starts on this track where ball-strikers succeed. Westwood has finished T7, WIN, MC and T6 in his last four worldwide. I bet he wishes the U.S. Open was next week…
Francesco Molinari: His last time out he was solo fourth at the Volvo China Open and he backed that up with T6 this week. Molinari, one of the best ball-strikers on the continent, has been all-or-nothing at Sawgrass as his solo ninth in his maiden voyage has been backed up with three straight MCs before today’s T6. Europe is full of ball-strikers and they threw their weight around this week. Molinari, who doesn’t carry status on TOUR, is seven for his last seven and two of his last three are T6 or better.
What happened to my pre-tournament favorites?
Rory McIlroy: For the second week in a row I had McIlroy as my Group 1 player in the GolfChannel.com game. For the second week in a row he saved my bacon by back-dooring it on Sunday. I’m not complaining.
Jim Furyk: For the second week in a row he was No. 2 in my rankings and No. 2 . For the second week in a row he finished solo second. #two
Adam Scott: With a chance to go to world No. 1 with a two-way T16, Scott opened with 77. He chased it down with 67-69 to begin Sunday T18 before stumbling on Sunday with 73 to finish T38. Sadly for gamers, the biggest news about Scott this week was learning that he got married on the Thursday after the Masters. I’M BLAMING HIS NEW WIFE FOR THIS PERFORMANCE!11!!
Not really, relax.
Sergio Garcia: His birdie on No. 18 Sunday took him from a T3 to solo third. Since he was my OAD this week, this makes a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE. Solo third was $680k. I’ll have Bolton figure out the math on what it would have been with three guys T3. I know that solo third is better than a three-way tie for third. Am I rite? Am I rite?
Luke Donald: For the third year in a row he found the 60s on Sunday to move it on up. Sadly for gamers this year he began the day at T61 after a 75 on Saturday so his 69 only moved him up to T38. You could have had Jamie Donaldson and had T38.
Matt Kuchar: He began Sunday T14 and was in reach to hit the top five for the fifth event on the trot with three rounds under par but all good things come to an end. Kuchar was three over after 10 holes on Sunday before he pulled a Kuchar and birdied four of the last seven to finish T17. The best thing about holstering Kuchar for down the road is that he seems to hit the top 20 EVERY SINGLE TIME. Actually, this is his worst finish since his T38 at Valspar. He has eight top 10s in 12 events.
Zach Johnson: His 69 on Thursday was his best of the week and progressively went in reverse as the weekend continued. He’s made the cut nine of 10 events here and that includes the last six in a row. Keep him circled for Colonial if he wasn’t burned this week!
Bubba Watson: The argument this week for many of the big players was course form versus current form. Watson has mentioned his distaste for TPC Sawgrass and his 76 on Sunday won’t help. He began the day T14 and had a shot to make some noise but limped home with 41 of them to finish T48.
Jordan Spieth: I didn’t use him at the Masters or THE PLAYERS in Yahoo! #sadface. That will not be the case next week in Dallas, his hometown. T4, see above.
J.B. Holmes: Trying to become the first back-to-back winner since McIlroy at the 2012 DBC and BMW, Holmes putter went ice cold and his ball-striking wasn’t much better. His rounds of 76-73 (MC) were his first rounds over par in 11 rounds. Before this week, he played 16 of his last 20 rounds at par or better. #blipontheradar
Lee Westwood: T6, see above. He’s on the list for next year already.
Graeme McDowell: The good news? He didn’t MC for the third year in a row. The bad news was he finished T60-something as he made nothing on these greens. This obviously is a course that does not fit his eye as his best finish in six tries is T26 five years ago. Save him for another tournament in 2015.
Keegan Bradley: He MC by one shot but only has one round in the 60s now in 10 trips around Sawgrass. Carding 72 putts in 36 holes didn’t help either as he MC for the second year in a row.
Henrik Stenson: Another one in the T14 club who didn’t fire on Sunday and it wasn’t because of his putter. Stenson was in the bottom half in fairways and greens and hasn’t found a round in the 60s in his last 12 on TOUR. This is first finish outside of T23 (T34) in seven weekends at Sawgrass.
Jason Dufner: His opening round 69 suggested he was going in the proper direction but his final three rounds saw him card FOUR doubles and eight bogeys. Sigh.
Graham DeLaet: Yep, he was distracted by the NHL Playoffs as he fired a bogey-free 69 on Thursday and backed that up with four bogeys and two doubles on Friday for 77. Roller coaster goes up; roller coaster goes down. He’s shown us he’s more valuable in the “off-week events” than the big boy events so far. I’ll be patient.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at HPBNC and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.